The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd (InfoSoup)
Emmaline lives at a hospital that used to be a grand house. The gardens still exist, but they are overgrown and in shambles. When Emmaline looks into the mirrors in the hospital, she sees winged horses living in the world in the reflection. Then one day when she climbs into a walled garden on the grounds, she discovers a wounded winged horse named Foxfire who is unable to fly and seems to have entered Emmaline’s world. On the sundial, Emmaline discovers a letter from the Horse Lord that gives her a quest to surround Foxfire with all of the colors from the rainbow to protect her from a dark horse who is hunting her. But where is Emmaline going to find bright colors in her world of World War II gray?
Shepherd has crafted a novel for young readers that offers a glimpse into another world where mirrors are filled with wild winged horses. It is a world with a kind Horse Lord who needs a child’s help and also one filled with the hoof and wing beats of a huge Black Horse. Beautifully, she allows readers to wonder if Emmaline is entirely imagining the horses, and keeps that question up until the end and beyond. Yet readers who believe will adore this book filled with mirror magic and dreams.
The “still waters” that Emmaline fights are tuberculosis. Shepherd makes sure that readers know that this can kill when Emmaline loses her closest friend at the hospital. Emmaline’s own tragic past is also revealed late in the book. Though Emmaline is fighting for her life, she is also filled with determination to save the horses and fight back against darkness. As the still waters rise in her, so does the full moon which is the deadline of when she must find all of the colors.
Beautifully written, this novel takes readers to World War II England and the battles fought on the homefront. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illustrated by Christina Forshay (InfoSoup)
Mei Mei’s grandfather, Gong Gong, is in the garden doing his tai chi forms. He sways his arms and explains that the form is called “White Crane Spreading Its Wings.” He also tells Mei Mei that tai chi is a martial art which makes Mei Mei start doing karate chops. Gong Gong continues to show Mei Mei about tai chi and its slow and smooth motions. Mei Mei does each motion with her own style. Then it is time for Mei Mei to teach Gong Gong about yoga. With stretching movements like Downward Dog and the Mermaid, Gong Gong is soon learning new poses of his own.
This book won Lee & Lows New Voices Award. It is a lovely look at the relationship of grandparent and grandchild through shared experiences and trying new things together. The incorporation of Tai Chi and Yoga is also done very well and there is a section in the back of the book that offers more information on the poses and forms demonstrated in the story. The way that Mei Mei is able to both learn from her grandfather and then teach him what she knows is a noteworthy element to the story, demonstrating that children can both be students and teachers.
The art by Forshay is bright and refreshing. She captures the various forms and poses with ease, showing the balance required for both Tai Chi and Yoga. She also demonstrates the energy of Mei Mei and the deep affection that the two of them have for one another. It is a book filled with movement and motion.
A joyful look at grandparents and grandchildren and the dynamic of learning from one another, this picture book is superb. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are some cool links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week:
Decolonizing Nostalgia: When Historical Fiction Betrays Readers of Color — The Horn Book
How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading
Unearthing the true story behind former British spy and treasured children’s author Arthur Ransome
We interviewed and about their latest creative collaboration!
Willy Wonka Movie in the Works at Warner Bros.
City To Expand Library Facilities In Public Housing Developments
The 30 Best Young Adult Books of All Time
HarperCollins to Publish a New Pittacus Lore Series
The Irish Examiner has the shortlist for the 2016 Irish Book Awards. The awards span 14 categories. Here are the ones related to literature for youth:
SPECSAVERS CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR – JUNIOR
A Child of Books – Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers
Goodnight Everyone – Chris Haughton
Historopedia – Fatti and John Burke
Pigín of Howth – Kathleen Watkins, illustrated by Margaret Anne Suggs
Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits – Julian Gough & Jim Field
Rover and the Big Fat Baby – Roddy Doyle, illustrated by Chris Judge
SPECSAVERS CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR – SENIOR
Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden
The Book of Shadows – E.R. Murray
The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey
Needlework – Deirdre Sullivan
Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy
Flawed – Cecelia Ahern
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (InfoSoup)
Louis Braille lost his sight at age five from an accident and a resulting infection. His family helped him learn to cope, making him a cane that he could use to explore a little farther from home each day. His brothers taught him to whistle and his sisters made him letters out of straw. He could play dominoes, knew trees by touch, flowers by their smell and could listen to books being read aloud. But there were no books for blind children like him. Even when he got into a school for the blind in Paris he had to work very hard and become one of the best students to be able to access their books. When Louis achieved that though, he found that the books were done in large raised wax letters so thick books were actually quite short. Then there was news that a French army captain had created a way to send secret messages that was read by touch. Louis worked to make the system readable by the blind, creating his own alphabet system as a teenager!
Bryant writes in first person from Braille’s point of view. She explains how Louis lost his sight with just enough detail to make it understandable how tragic it was but doesn’t overly linger there. When Louis’ sight is gone, the text changes to become filled with noises and other senses than sight. Bryant moves the story forward using Braille’s desire to read for himself, that drives both the story and Braille’s own life. As each opportunity proves to be disappointing, Braille does not give up hope, instead developing throughout his life a tenacity to find a solution.
Kulikov’s illustrations play light against dark. When Braille loses his sight, the pages go black with shadowy furniture forms only. Color is gone entirely. The reader is not left there, but moves back into the world of color unless the story is speaking about Braille’s blindness specifically, so when Braille finally gets to try reading the wax lettering, the page goes dark again, also showing his disappointment in the solution.
Intelligently designed and depicted, this is a warm and inspiring look at the life and achievements of Louis Braille. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The winners of the Governor General’s Awards have been announced. Two of the Canadian award’s winners are for young people’s literature:
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE – TEXT
Calvin by Martine Leavitt
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE – ILLUSTRATED BOOKS
Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka
The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (InfoSoup)
I’m not really sure how to best review this work. It has a brilliant foreword by Neil Gaiman, who says, “Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them.” The introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes states, “…Tan has transformed the Grimms’ tales into miraculous artworks that will move and speak for themselves.” I can only echo this sentiment, because the sculptures that Tan has created bring the Brothers Grimm stories into reality, make the solid and strange in a way that reading them doesn’t.
The sculptures are brilliant, showing aspects of familiar stories that bring new meaning to the tales but also revealing new and less familiar stories to readers and inviting them to indulge in more darkness and wonder. Turning the pages in this book is like a journey filled with gasps of disbelief and realization. New images are revealed on each page and so are the intimate hearts of the tales.
A stunning and brilliant series of sculptures with glimpses into the tales they represent. This book shows older children that the darkness of Grimm tales will still call to them. Appropriate for ages 9-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
YALSA has announced the Teens’ Top Ten for 2016. Nominees are currently being taken through December 31st for the 2017 Teens’ Top Ten list. Teens aged 12-18 can nominate their picks here.
Here are the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten:
Alive by Chandler Baker
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Novice: Summoner: Book One by Taran Matharu
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten
When by Victoria Laurie
There is also a video:
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (InfoSoup)
This inventive picture book takes a close-up look at a garden filled with insects. There is the caterpillar who enters his chrysalis, beetles and a ladybug who notice a sprout growing. They go to Icky, who lives in a log nearby and who has a ladder they can use. The sprout continues to grow and grow. At night other insects and bugs come out. Soon a fort is built in the growing plant but then, disaster! A spider comes and webs the entire plant. As nature continues to take its course, more insects arrive to see the plant flower. Slowly the plant tips over and the fort falls. Seeds drift to the ground. Fall arrives and the butterfly emerges from her cocoon. In spring, new sprouts appear.
The summary above does not capture what is truly amazing about this book. It is the language play, the word choices and the way that at first it seems like a foreign language but by the end of the book you are “speaking” and understanding bug. The language has phrases that are recognizable, allows for decoding of the language and then repeats in a way that allows readers to better understand. It’s very cleverly done and a book unlike any other I’ve experienced.
Ellis’ illustrations add to the otherworldly appeal of this book. Many of the insects are recognizable and still they are strange and wild. The illustrations beautifully focus on the same log and plant throughout, with seasons changing, the plant growing, and the insects coming and going. It is rather like an organic theatrical set and stage.
I have a deep affection for this zany picture book. Children who enjoy word play will love this and may find themselves speaking the bug language for awhile. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.