Category: Elementary School

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (9780062399618, Amazon)

A princess who is blind also doesn’t speak. Her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, offer a place in the palace and other rewards to anyone who can get Cinnamon to talk. Though the kingdom is remote, people journey there to try but no one was successful. The one day a talking tiger came to the palace and offered to help. Though everyone was frightened, Cinnamon’s parents allowed the tiger to try. Using a series of experiences like pain, fear and love, the tiger proceeded to tell Cinnamon stories. The next morning, the princess was able to talk but things don’t quite go according to plan.

Gaiman excels at writing books with a deep ambiguity and no pressure to have a moral or lesson at the end. This book has exactly that and it is why the book works to very well. He embraces the questions, allows the wonder to simply be there, and twists the story away from where traditional tales would end and towards a more shifting place that allows more dreaming.

The illustrations firmly place this book of a mythical India. Filled with rich colors, they have a distinct flatness to them that works well with a folktale subject like this. They are also filled with small details that adds a delicacy and luxuriance to the images.

Great illustrations bring this book previously only available on audio into the world of children and stories. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington (9781580895477, Amazon)

Through a series of poems, take a visit to the farmer’s market. From the early work done by farmers long before their customers are awake to the market itself, this book celebrates one of the joys of summer. There are poems about how markets transform empty parking lots, the displays of heaped produce, the friendly sharing of samples, tempting baked goods, and the feeling of community that markets bring. It’s also a collection that celebrates the food too, the freshness of the produce and the bounty that people bring home.

Schaub very successfully has captured the summer joy of farmer’s markets across the country. One can hear the bustle and busyness of the market, captured in her poetry. Throughout there is a sense of humor and immense pleasure at what the market provides beyond the food itself. The poetry has a lightness that reflects the feel of summer and sunshine.

Huntington’s illustrations are equally bright and sunny. She incorporates people of a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures in her images, making sure to fully celebrate communities in her images. She also cleverly weaves a story in her images with a loose dog who adds to the energy of the day.

A fresh and vibrant look at farmer’s markets that is perfect zest to a summer day. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9781554988716, Amazon)

In a coal town in Cape Breton, Canada, a boy wakes up to a summer day. He wakes to the sound of the sea, spends some time with his friends. Still, his mind continues to think of his father mining for coat deep under the sea in the darkness. He runs errands for his mother and visits his grandfather’s grave which looks out over the sea. His grandfather too was a coal miner and the boy knows that it is his future as well.

Schwartz has created a book set in the 1950s in a coal town where families worked in the mines for generations. Even as the book shows a richness of a well-spent childhood, it is overshadowed by the presence of the coal mine in the boy’s life and how it impacted his family and his father in particular. She wisely works to contrast life above the ground with that below, showing a childhood of fresh breezes and sunlight that will turn into a life spent primarily in darkness.

Smith’s illustrations clearly depict the claustrophobia of the mines, filling the page with smothering darkness and only a couple of men in a tunnel. This contrasts with his illustrations of days spent near the sea, sometimes the sun nearly blinding as it shines off the water. There is a sense of the inevitable in the book, of life paths already formed.

A glimpse of Canadian history, this picture book will appeal to older readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder

Charlie and Mouse by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes (9781452131535, Amazon)

Based on Snyder’s own two sons, this early chapter book is a real delight. It perfectly captures the relationship of siblings who enjoy spending time together. The four stories in the book are alluringly short and yet immensely satisfying. The book begins with Charlie waking up to a lump next to him, a lump that isn’t ready to get up yet. The second story has the two boys deciding that it’s the day of a neighborhood party and gathering their parents and friends. In the third story, the brothers try to sell rocks for money and find that people would rather pay them to take rocks away. The final story brings the book full circle with the brothers getting ready for bed and the sleepy lump reappearing.

Snyder writes with a refreshing frankness about the children, depicting them playing without fighting and enjoying their time together. Still, these are real children who have silly ideas, strong personalities and a zany sense of humor. The two boys are wonderfully distinct from one another despite the shortness of the chapters.

Hughes is one of my favorite illustrators of children, showing them in all of their playful wildness. These two brothers are the same, their messy hair, interesting wardrobe choices, and outdoor play adding to the feel that these are real children. The illustrations also give a feeling of the neighborhood and community that the children are growing up in, a friendly feel with small town aspects.

We don’t see nearly enough stories about children who love spending time with their siblings. This book celebrates that as well as the silliness of childhood. Children will look forward to the next adventures of these brothers. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9781626724167, Amazon)

Newbery Honor winning author Hale tells the story of her own elementary-school years and the tensions of changing friendships. Shannon has been friends with Adrienne since they were little, but it all starts changing when Adrienne joins the popular kids, particularly Jen who leads The Group. The girls in the The Group vie for Jen’s attention and who will sit closest to her at lunch or at recess. Shannon loves to create stories but can’t seem to tell them without having someone with her. As the years pass, Shannon’s relationships with the other girls in The Group ebb and flow, with situations like bullying and sibling rivalry emerging as well. But what does it take to find real friends?

Hale takes all of the emotions and tensions of becoming a middle grader and honors them in her novel. By using her own personal experiences growing up, she has imbued the tale with personality and wit. It is filled with honesty and humor while not minimizing the drama of bad situations at all. This graphic novel is illustrated by award-winning illustrator Pham. The illustrations are friendly and bright. They reflect both the reality of Shannon’s life but also her rich imagination and the games and stories that emerge from it.

This is a book that will speak to all children in elementary school who are navigating the changes that come at that stage of life. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from First Second.

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780763680947, Amazon)

This book is an exploration of famous poets through poems in their honor. Each one captures a sense of that poet whether it is in format itself or subject matter or simply a frame of mind. Turning the pages, one encounters new poets but also old friends. It is with those poets that one knows well that the book truly shines, the homage is clear and the cleverness of the poetry is wonderful.

I read many shining reviews of this book and still was unprepared for how great it is. This is a book that should be part of poetry units in elementary school. It shows two sides of poetry, both paying respect to poets who have gone before but also creating in poetic form a real honor for their work. It’s smart, clever and so beautifully done. As I turned the pages to discover some of my favorite poets on the page, I found myself smiling with delight and amazement as that poet was revealed via poetry.

The illustrations by Holmes are also a way that the poets themselves are depicted on the page. They vary from a focus on a bowl of oatmeal for Billy Collins to zinging reds and oranges and yellows for Rumi to a natural focus for Mary Oliver and Neruda. The varied illustrations also imitate the focus on structure or free style that each poet uses; they are adept reflections of the poet and their poetry.

This book belongs in every elementary school collection and every public library. It is extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 7-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9781101994856, Amazon)

The author of Wolf Hollow returns with her second novel for young people.  This is a novel of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts where Crow has lived all of her life. She lives on a solitary island with Osh, the man who found her afloat in a little boat when she was a newborn baby.  The others on the islands won’t associate with Crow, since they all assume that she came from a nearby island that was a leper hospital. Miss Maggie is the exception, she cares fiercely for Crow and makes sure that she learns what she needs to despite not being able to attend school. As Crow starts to piece together her own history, she exposes those she loves to new dangers that are far worse than the storms of nature they weather together.

Wolk once again has created a novel that brings a place to life. Here she has chosen the Elizabeth Islands and the islands themselves feature prominently in the story both in terms of their isolation but also in their beauty. The islands serve as shelter, home, a source of fuel and food, and a community as well. The island with the hospital for lepers insures that Crow is even more isolated than the rest of the community due to the questions of her past. It’s a brilliant setting, one of the best that I have ever read where each page is a reflection of the sea and the islands.

Crow is a dazzlingly great heroine. She is strong and independent, determined to figure things out even as those around her give up. She pieces together clues from the mystery of her past, a mystery that permeates the entire novel even after it is solved. Crow is anxious to learn of her history and throughout the novel explores questions of identity and family of love and betrayal. It’s a novel that swirls and eddies, displaying beauty and dangers in turn.

This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.