Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)
It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?
Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.
Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.
A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (InfoSoup)
Ruben would love to have a bike like his friend Sergio has. Even though his birthday is coming, Ruben knows that he doesn’t get presents like bicycles. His family is large and there’s not enough money even for all of the groceries they need some weeks. One day when he is at the store for his mother, a lady in front of him drops a dollar bill. Ruben picks it up and puts it in his pocket, but when he looks at it later he discovers it’s actually a one-hundred dollar bill! That’s enough for him to get the bike he’s always wanted. Now Sergio has a dilemma, does he give the money to his family for groceries? Does he give it back to the woman? Or does he buy the bike of his dreams?
Boelts has created a story that is much more than a lesson in morals. This story is about ethical choices yes, but also about economic disparity and families living on the edge. It is a story told with real subtlety and offering an understanding of what would drive a child who is good at heart to steal what they thought was a dollar. It’s a book about the stories we tell ourselves to make our decisions “right” and the way that doing the right thing may not always be easy or clear.
The illustrations by Jones are modern and rather quirky. They fill the page with the vividness of the urban setting. The love and caring of Ruben’s family are also celebrated in the illustrations.
Subtle and smart, this book about decisions and doing the right thing asks all the right questions. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (InfoSoup)
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania in 1943, Annabelle lives a quiet life where she hopes for adventure. She attends a one-room schoolhouse with her two younger brothers, walking there from their family farm each day. That quiet life changes when Betty Glengarry arrives at school. She immediately targets Annabelle, demanding payments in exchange for not hurting Annabelle and her brothers, killing a bird without remorse. Annabelle does not want to worry her family with her troubles, so she keeps them to herself. Soon though things escalate with her youngest brother running into a sharpened wire along the path. After that, Annabelle’s best friend is maimed with a rock that Annabelle knows was thrown by Betty. Betty though blames Toby, a reclusive man who walks the paths all day long with guns slung on his back. Toby has been nothing but kind to Annabelle and her family, but he is considered strange by many. When Betty disappears soon after making the allegation, Annabelle decides that she must rescue Toby from the new accusations being made.
Wolk has created a rich and beautiful world for Annabelle to live in. The hills and valleys of the Pennsylvanian countryside offer not only a rich farming world but also a place where secrets can hide and dangers lurk. The setting of Wolf Hollow itself with its history of trapping wolves in pits is a striking analogy for what happens in the novel. Annabelle herself is brave and clever, a girl who is bullied awfully and then has the power placed in her hands to make a difference for someone she cares about.
This book focuses on the courage it takes to stand up for what is right, for what one knows deep down to be true. It is a book that speaks to all of those who are strange among us and the way that rumors and accusations tend to target them. It is also about the power a child can have in an adult world, the difference one person can make. It is also a book that is dark and complicated: one where girls disappear, where Germans are not welcome, and where hate is fast to develop.
This is a complex and layered novel that is a deep and compelling read focusing on bullying and the impact of war. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers
Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Lujan, illustrated by Chiara Carrer
This very simple story explores philosophical areas while still remaining a picture book that is accessible to very young children. Stephen was walking in the garden and sees a beetle. He took off his shoe and was about to smack the beetle. The beetle continued on its way, unaware of the threat. Stephen raised his shoe higher, but then started to wonder about what the beetle was doing and where it was walking to. So Stephen set down his shoe and put his head on the ground. The beetle came closer, reared back on its back legs and seemed about to attack, but then seemed to think about it and instead just continued on its way. The parallel pieces of this story make it all the more thought provoking and should get children thinking in a new way about even their smallest decisions during their day.
Lujan’s writing is simple and pure. He tells the story and what is happening with a straight-forward tone and allows the story itself to create the points of discussion. The only point where the writing gets complex and lush is when the beetle is about to attack. Suddenly the tone changes and the rhythm gets wild. But then, it is back to the simple tone to finish the story.
Carrer’s art is done in mixed media that includes collage, paint, pen, chalk and ink. She very successfully plays with dark and light images that mirror one another. The beetle is shown to be just as complex a creature as Stephen himself.
This is a book that will certainly generate discussion. There are etchical implications here, the question of impact of our decisions, and the aspect of choice. And yet, there is also a small boy playing in a yard with a beetle. It is a perfect example of a small scene that speaks to much larger issues. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.