Category: Elementary School

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn (9781592702299, Amazon)

Told in the voice of a young boy who is different from the others around him. He doesn’t mind wearing different colored gloves after he can’t find his lost one. He enjoys being alone most of the time, unlike the others in his town. His favorite place to be alone is in a huge oak tree that is named Bertolt. The boy spends his days up in Bertolt’s branches, weathering storms together, making friends with the animals and birds that live in the tree. The boy looks forward to spring when Bertolt’s leaves will return and become a splendid green shelter again. But when the other trees burst into flower and leaf, Bertolt doesn’t. Eventually, the boy must admit that Bertolt is dead, but what does one do when a tree dies? The boy figures out exactly the right thing.

This is a story of an introverted child who doesn’t mind being on his own one bit. As a fellow introvert, I love seeing the depiction of a child who isn’t longing to be included but instead finds real pleasure in his time spent alone. It’s a story of independence and imagination, showing that quiet time alone can lead to creative solutions even when you have lost something you love. The book is touching, warm and celebratory.

The illustrations are lovely with the huge sweeping oak tree filling the page, the branches thick and strong, the leaves aglow with green and light. The fine-lined images capture the boy almost dwarfed by the space around him and yet eagerly also a vital part of the scene. His acorn cap speaks to his connection to nature and set him apart from the people around him as well.

A lovely look at introversion, imagination and the power of being different and embracing it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (9781626721593, Amazon)

The second book in The Nameless City, this book continues the story of Kaidu and Rat as the political situation grows even tenser in the city. The Dao nation is exploring new paths to solidify peace, but factions within are seeing their personal plans for power evaporating. Soon violence becomes the solution within the Dao factions and someone new is in power. Meanwhile, Kaidu and Rat are discovering that the monks that raised Rat may have the key to the power that the original founders of the City used to create it. But that power could be used as a weapon by the Dao nation, so there is danger in even trying to find it.

Hicks has taken on an incredible challenge in this graphic novel series. The story is complicated and fascinating. Hicks creates real danger and drama in the tale, never taking it too far but allowing the political pieces to push the story forward. Kaidu and Rat are marvelous characters, their friendship growing stronger. They offer a critical humorous interlude amongst the politics even as they play an important role in the heart of the story.

As this is a graphic novel, the art is just as important as the writing. Hicks has created a truly diverse city filled with various races and religions. She fills the pages with small details, allowing readers to feel the press of the city, the danger it poses and the security it offers.

This second novel hints at the adventures to come. Readers will look forward to the third and final book even more after finishing this one. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost (9780374303037, Amazon)

Sisters Claire and Abi have been going to their family’s lake house since they were born. After their mother died, her things were kept just the way she had left them at the lake house: her chair at the window, books on the shelves and a painting on the easel. Now everything is different. Their father has married Pam and their mother’s things have been moved from the house. Pam is pregnant and the baby should come during their time at the lake. Claire discovers that Abi is changing too. Abi is interested in boys and starts to sneak off to meet them, involving Claire in her lies. Claire finds herself alone on the lake often, trying to figure out what all of this change means for her family.

Frost is a master of the verse novel, and this book is a great example of her skill and heart. She plays with formats for her poetry, using different types of poems and different structures for the various voices. The book is told not only by Claire and Abi but by the lake itself, and those poems are my favorites. They have embedded sentences using the bolded letters either at the beginning or ends of the poetic lines. It turns reading them into a puzzle that leads to discovery, rather like Claire’s summer.

The two sisters are dynamic characters. Abi’s interest in boys is seen as natural and normal, and so is her pushing the boundaries. Organic progression is made in Claire’s relationship with Pam, positivity slowly moving in to replace the wariness. Claire is a girl who is brave and wonderfully written. She has fears but overcomes them and never stops trying.

A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air by Matthew Clark Smith

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares (9780763677329, Amazon)

This picture book biography tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly on her own. In the 18th century, France was filled with “balloonmania.” Every balloonist was male and they were breaking records. Meanwhile, a girl was growing up by the seaside and dreaming of flight. When she met the famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the two realized they had a shared passion for flight. They were soon married and started flying together. After two shared flights, Sophie went up alone and became the first woman to fly a balloon solo. Her husband died from a heart attack and fall from a balloon and Sophie stopped flying for awhile. Eventually, she flew again and earned a living with her flight. Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals and Chief Air Minister of Ballooning.

Smith offers exactly the right amount of detail in this picture book. The dangers of ballooning are mentioned but not dwelled upon, just like the death of Jean-Pierre. Sophie’s own death in a balloon is only mentioned in the Author’s Note which also speaks to how little is actually known about her despite her accomplishments. Her childhood, in particular, is unknown and Smith created some of the details himself. Throughout the book, it is the wonder of human flight that is the focus and that unites Sophie’s adult life with her childhood dreams.

Tavares has illustrated this picture book with period details that capture the balloons and the fragility of the baskets. In other illustrations, he captures the sky and the expanse that Sophie is flying into. Two illustrations mirror one another with darker skies as Sophie dreams as a girl of flying and when she returns to flight after her husband’s death.

An important picture book about a brave and groundbreaking woman who refused to be limited by the rest of the world. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca (9780763648220, Amazon)

A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Medalist join forces in this wonderful mashup of princess tale and crocodile naughtiness. Cora is a princess who tries her best to do what her father the king and her mother the queen want. She takes three baths a day, studies dull books about finance, and exercises by jumping rope. Over and over again, day after day, until she simply can’t take it anymore. So she writes to her fairy godmother and asks for a pet. But when she opens the box, it’s an enormous crocodile rather than a dog. The princess and crocodile switch places for a day and chaos ensues. The princess has a lovely messy day outdoors exploring and playing. The crocodile meanwhile forces the nanny into the bathtub, locks the queen in the library with only the dull books, and chews on the king in a most sensitive spot! Still, a crocodile may be exactly what this royal family needs.

Schlitz is a chameleon of an author, moving with grace and skill from one sort of format to another. Here she seemingly effortlessly creates a chapter book for newer readers that reveals from the very cover that there is great fun inside. The brilliant and highly unusual combination of princess story with dresses and crowns with a crocodile who isn’t afraid to bite royal ankles and bottoms is pure brilliance. This is a princess book that I would merrily give to any child whether they enjoy princesses or not, after all, there’s a funny crocodile who makes it all wild and wonderful.

Floca’s art is an impressive pairing here. He runs with the mashup of princess and crocodile, the art having a serious tone at first as the royal family is depicted in all of their earnest childraising. The Victorian feel of the book is perfection, until the crocodile appears. Then a green wildness comes into the story, filling it with sharp teeth and plenty of attitude. Floca’s art though is broad enough to fit Victorian rules with crocodile play on the same page with hilarious results. It’s the play of the rules and formality against the silliness that makes the art such a joy.

A great chapter book pick, share this one aloud in a classroom because it will appeal to all readers! Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm (9780545805414, Amazon, GoodReads)

This is the fourth picture book collaboration between Bang and Chisholm. All of the picture books done by Bang as author and illustrator and Chisholm, professor of Ecology at MIT have focused on the sun. This picture book is all about how the sun works to move water through the water cycle on earth. The role of the sun as it evaporates water to vapor. The way the sun heats and cools water. The way that water moves around the earth via ocean currents. It’s a book about the power of the sun and the value of water on earth with an emphasis on conservation and care.

Bang and Chisholm have created a group of picture books that celebrate our earth and the wonder of the sun. This book includes water, looking at the small amount of fresh water that actually exists on earth, the way that water cycles through our world, and the power of the sun in all of these systems. The book is told in the voice of the sun, speaking as the source of winds, the power of evaporation, the source of ocean currents.

Bang’s illustrations are lit by the sun. She rims trees in yellow, lights mountains in gold, and swirls lemon through the oceans. She shows the water in the atmosphere as a river of its own, dappled and bright but also subtle against the bolder parts of the illustrations. There is a delicacy to it that emphasizes how humans can damage water on our planet.

Another winner from this collaboration of art and science, this picture book shines. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from The Blue Sky Press.