Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler (9780399162909)
After her father dies, a girl, her mother and seven siblings move into a tar-paper shack in the woods. The shack is worn but inside they discover a root cellar with a pump that offers clean water. The family plants a garden with seeds they brought with them and find a large berry patch too. In autumn, Mum walks to town to get work doing chores and all of the children pitch in at home. They can their harvest so that it will last through the winter. In winter, the boys go hunting and often return home empty handed. But when they get a turkey, the family feasts. When spring arrives, the family starts to trade baked goods for eggs and milk from neighbors and the little shack looks like home now.
Wheeler takes a story from her own family history during the Great Depression and turns it into this heartwarming story of determination and resilience in the face of incredible poverty. The focus here is on how the entire family worked together to meet the challenge, each sibling taking on duties and roles that suited their age and ability. The stalwart mother is also shown as an incredible cook, a source of hope and the reason the family survived.
Wheeler’s illustrations ensure that hope is the focus of this picture book. While drab and dirty at first, the little shack is transformed just by the people who inhabit it. Games are simple and done without any real toys, even the baby finding leaves and sticks the perfect things to play with. The jewel-like canned foods enliven the darkness of the root cellar, promising safety in the cold.
A brilliant historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
The shortlists for the 2020 Blue Peter Book Awards have been released. Given by the UK’s BookTrust, the books celebrate the best fiction and nonfiction reads of the year for children. Here are the shortlists:
Owen and the Soldier by Lisa Thompson, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Vote for Effie by Laura Wood
Wildspark by Vashti Hardy
BEST BOOK WITH FACTS
Fanatical About Frogs by Owen Davey
How to Be an Astronaut and Other Space Jobs by Dr. Sheila Kanani & Sol Linero
Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, illustrated by Amy Blackwell
Gravity by Sarah Deming (9780525581031)
Once Gravity found her way to the Cops ‘n Kids gym, a place with no address, she couldn’t stop going. There was a smell the gym of boys and sweat, and it gave her a real reason to hit something and hit it hard. As Gravity got older, she got better at boxing, quickly becoming a young boxer to watch in the circuit. She headed undefeated into meets that could lead her to the Olympics, but her home life was a mess. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic who was best when she was ignoring Gravity and her little brother. Her father had left, returned and then disappeared again. Now Gravity had a way forward, a way to create a future for herself and her brother separate from her mother. All she had to do was win, and she worked hard and wanted it badly. But nothing comes easily, especially in boxing.
I must admit that I’m not usually a fan of sports novels, but Deming’s novel of Gravity and her battles to make it out of poverty and abuse caught me and held me in its sweaty arms. Deming herself has personal knowledge of boxing as a New York City Golden Gloves champion and boxing journalist. She takes that knowledge and allows readers to see beyond the physicality and violence of boxing into the art and skill of the sport. Her writing is fast paced and the bouts themselves are readable, understandable, and sometimes bloody.
Gravity is a fantastic heroine, someone who is resilient and strong both in her heart and her body. She is confident but not overly so, someone that readers will relate to and understand deeply as she is shown so clearly and vividly in this novel. Gravity is also someone who loves deeply, including family and her coach. This novel doesn’t shrink away from sex either, nicely never shaming the participants either.
A gripping, feminist sports novel that will grab readers and not let them go. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
The Wolf Will Not Come by Myriam Ouyessad, illustrated by Ronan Badel (9780764357800)
A little bunny is going to bed, but he has lots of questions for his mother about wolves. She reassures him that a wolf will not come that night. Still he isn’t satisfied. She explains that wolves are not as common anymore due to hunting. She explains that they live in woods. But there is a small woods near their house. Perhaps the wolf is a very good hider too, plus he looks like a big dog. It sounds like he might be able to get to the rabbits’ house after all. Still, he has to cross traffic, find the right address, sneak inside without the door code, and take the elevator. But the little rabbit has answers for all of these obstacles. So will the wolf arrive?
The story is cleverly told with one page reflecting the little rabbit’s quiet bedroom and the other the wolf steadily making his way closer and closer through the obstacles the mother rabbit is describing. There is a great tension and expectation to the book, but I doubt that anyone will see the twist of the ending coming. It’s a wonderful surprise even as one sees the wolf heading towards the rabbits.
The illustrations play a huge role in the book, showing the wolf as the mother rabbit describes things. The book uses shadows, light and dark very effectively to show danger and safety, fears and expectations.
Funny and surprising with just the right touch of danger. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Goodreads Choice Awards opening round nominees have been announced. For those of us interested in books for youth, there are several categories to keep an eye on. Those are picture books, middle grade & children’s, young adult fiction, and young adult fantasy. Also make sure that you click through to see broader categories too like graphic novels which has several YA titles and poetry too.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)
This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.
There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.
The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.
This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.