The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9780062687739)
One summer, the townspeople got together and raised a large barn. The narrator was a little boy at the time and he watched them create the foundation, build framing for the windows, and nail the shingles. In the process, his father’s wedding ring was lost and no one was able to find it. The family worked to finish the inside of the barn with spaces for each of the animals. They ended by summer by painting the barn red. The boy grew up, went away to school and came back to help with the farm. He got married in the barn, there were generations of sleepovers, and kittens were born there. Storms came, and the barn weathered them all. Then one day, the owl left its nest and inside was his father’s wedding ring!
In this picture book MacLachlan pays homage to the huge undertaking of raising a barn on the prairie. The neighbors who worked to make it possible, the continued work even after the structure was up and the dedication it took to work the land. Her writing is filled with details and delights from the fox watching the barn go up to the kittens and chickens around to the moment of seeing an opossum looking for shelter.
The art by Pak takes the isolation and flatness of the prairie and exaggerates them, leaving the huge red barn to dominate the landscape. The deep red of the barn, its stateliness and the way it stands to protect a family and a farm is beautifully depicted in the images that are quite haunting.
A barn that lasts 100 years is something quite special and so is this picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (9780316418416)
Ryn is the daughter of the gravedigger in her small village next to the forest. When her father didn’t return from the mines, she took over his job. But the forest has always been full of legends and now the dead seem to be returning to life. The bone houses, as Ryn calls them, are scoffed at by the others in the village. When Ryn rescues a young man, Ellis, who grew up in the prince’s castle, she finds a new way to bring some coin to her small family. But the bone houses continue to rise, soon becoming a wave of zombies so large no one in the village can deny their existence. Ryn and Ellis set off to find the mythical cauldron that had caused the bone houses to rise. It means heading deep into the dangerous forest and through the mine where Ryn’s father perished. Along the way, they learn about the wonders of the curse, find the pieces of Ellis’s mysterious past, and discover how it and they fit together.
I adored the premise of this book, which is a medieval setting full of mythical creatures who have all vanished that is facing a zombie apocalypse. The weaving of poverty, cruel landlords, stubborn goats, beloved family and newfound friends together is intoxicating. Add in the horrors of the risen dead, and it’s an amazing amalgamation that really works well.
A large part of its success is Ryn herself. She is a determined protagonist who refuses to leave her family’s home behind even with bone houses everywhere. She is fearless as she battles them, gentle with the dead, and full of contradictions. She is opinionated, funny and entirely fabulous even when she is muddy from head to toe. Ellis is also a great character. He has a weak arm which he treats with natural painkillers. It is an issue on their journey but doesn’t ever get used as an excuse for him not being successful as they travel. He is studious, introspective and forever surprising Ryn with what he says. The two are a great pair, and who doesn’t love a woman who can wield both a shovel and an axe with such skill.
A great zombie book with plenty of brains about it. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley (9781454931843)
Harpreet loves to express himself through the colors he wears, particularly the colors of his patka. Yellow was for when he felt sunny, pink for celebrating, red for courage, and blue for when he was nervous. When Harpreet moved across the country to a snowy city, he stopped wearing his colors. Instead, day after day, he wore white to match the cold outdoors and to be invisible. His parents tried to get him to wear different colors again, but he refused. Then one day, he discovered one of his classmate’s yellow hat in the snow and returned it to her. He loved the yellow and the smiley face on it. She loved his patka too. Steadily, Harpreet started to wear colors again, this time to celebrate a new friend.
Kelkar beautifully depicts the power of color in a little boy’s life while celebrating his Sikh religion at the same time. She takes the time to show what each color represents, along with the illustrations depicting what bravery, joy and nerves mean to him personally. The story is tightly written, focused on the nerves and loneliness of moving and finding your way. This focus makes the discovery of a new friend all the more powerful.
Marley’s illustrations show the range of colors that Harpreet has for his patka along with their matching outfits. Harpreet’s emotions, both joyous and sad, are clearly depicted in facial expressions and in body language. It is a huge relief when Harpreet’s world starts to be multicolored again.
Diverse and colorful, this picture book is anything but dull. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Big Breath by William Meyer (9781608686339)
This book is one of the most successful meditation books I have seen for young people. It promises to be a guided meditation for children and really lives up to that. Both the text and the images work together to carry children through a series of breath and imagery exercises that will lead to calmness and being centered. It is presented as an adventure where you first pay attention to the sound of your breath. You then picture your thoughts and allow them to blow away with your breath like clouds on the wind. You send your breath into your hands and imagine yourself opening a surprise present. You send your breath into your toes, thinking of all the places you traveled today. Then you let all of that go, and just breathe.
This is a book about simple yet profound approaches to meditation that make it fun and friendly. The attention is on the process but also on the way that you feel afterwards. Throughout the book, ties to nature and the way that you fit into nature play across the pages along with the concise yet vibrant instructions.
The illustrations really lift this book. Filled with watercolors, they swirl and dance on the page. They offer imagery and lead into the meditation processes with a friendly colorful guidance that also shows that people do things differently and that’s OK.
A great book for children on meditation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The New York Times and New York Public Library have announced their picks for the best illustrated books of the year. The winners are selected solely based on artistic merit. The New York Times also has a slide show of the winning artist’s at work. Here are the books on the list:
Another by Christian Robinson
The Boring Book by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna
The Farmer by Ximo Abadia
I Miss My Grandpa by Jin Xiaojing
Just Because by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
The Lost Cousins by B.B. Cronin
A Million Dots by Sven Volker
Monkey on the Run by Leo Timmers
Small in the City by Sydney Smith
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (9780062878021)
Lou lives in the city as a thief, stealing what she needs to survive, feasting when possible on sweets, and dressing herself in costumes from the theater attic where she lives. Because her life depends on it, she tries to never use her witch magic, lest her mother discover where she is. Reid is a witchhunter, raised from an orphaned baby into one of the leaders of the Church Chasseurs. He not only hunts witches but kills them, usually ultimately burning them at the stake if they live that long. When Lou tries to escape Reid by publicly shaming him, they end up being forced to marry one another. As the war between the witches and the church escalates, Reid and Lou find themselves at the center of it just as they discover their increasing feelings for one another.
If you are looking for one amazing teen fantasy novel, you have found it here. Mahurin builds a great world for her characters, one with extensive history that impacts the action in the novel in an understandable and fascinating way. As more of the details of the history are revealed, the cunning nature of the witches’ plans become more clears as well as the motivations of the church. It’s a book that untangles itself in front of the reader and yet leaves plenty of questions to be answered in a future volume.
The book mixes romance and fantasy. It has one of the hottest sex scenes I have read in a teen novel too where details are not skimped on and the woman takes the lead. As with that scene, Lou is not ever one to shrink away from saying what she thinks and needs. She is prickly and jaded, falling for Reid despite all of the guards she has in place. Reid could have simply been the bemused soldier in all of this, but Mahurin has made him Lou’s equal in the book, so that readers understand the damage done by both the witches and the church to society and individuals.
An amazing and gripping fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Publisher’s Weekly publishes a list of the best books every year. Here are their picks for the best teen reads of 2019:
Angel Mage by Garth Nix
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Gravity by Sarah Deming
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh
Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Slay by Brittney Morris
Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia by Marc Favreau
Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott
The Waning Age by S.E. Grove
We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Publisher’s Weekly has released their picks for the best books of the year. They do three lists for books for children and teens. Here are the middle grade books that made the list:
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder
New Kid by Jerry Craft
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia