This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis

This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso (9781419742064)

Open Bud Ranch is a place that took in all kinds of animals. When Jack the goat first arrived, it was clear to all of the other animals that Jack liked his space. But Charlie the horse didn’t even see Jack, since he was getting used to being only able to see from one of his eyes. After getting stepped on, Jack made sure to keep an eye on Charlie at all times. That’s when he noticed that he and Charlie liked a lot of the same things like sunlit pastures and smelling the honeysuckle. But Charlie often got turned around and had to move really slowly. One day, Jack decided to help and led Charlie to the best place to graze and then down to the river. Soon the two went everywhere together. Then Charlie lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him entirely blind. Jack still liked his space, so when a storm blew in, Charlie left the warm barn to protect Jack from the rain. After an argument, Charlie got in an accident and that left Jack the only one to save him, even though it meant talking to the others on the farm.

Levis offers a rich story arc in this picture book that tells a full tale and also manages to be a great read-aloud. The tale of these two unlikely friends is based on the true story of Charlie and Jack. The book gently shows that animals have value even if they aren’t technically productive in a farming sense, and that they have emotions and the ability to help one another when they are in need.

Santoso’s illustrations beautifully show the farm with glowing pages of sunlit pastures. He moves easily into action and drama as the story demands it with the same animals distraught or scared. The illustrations capture the personalities of Charlie and Jack.

An engaging and warm look at animal rescue and friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power (9780525645627)

The author of Wilder Girls returns with a novel that is a dangerous mix of fire, family and fate. Margot has always lived with just her mother, struggling to make ends meet. Her mother has strange rules, like always leaving a candle burning. Margot has always wondered about the rest of her family, her father and grandparents. When she discovers a photograph of her grandmother’s home, she finally has the key to find them. She doesn’t expect to enter the town of Phalene and be immediately recognized as a member of their family, and she certainly doesn’t expect her grandmother to be despised, living alone on a ruined farm. When a girl with Margot’s face is found dead, Margot finds herself at the heart of a mystery that she may never escape.

A dynamic combination of horror, mystery and science fiction, this book grabs readers up and doesn’t release them until the final ember dies down. It’s a book that is terrifying but also exceptionally written with a keen sense of pacing, allowing moments of revelation to slow and other moments to race past. Power deeply understands horror, giving readers just enough information to keep them guessing. Her use of a rural setting is marvelous, hearkening back to classics like Children of the Corn.

Margot is a flawed character who is prickly, challenging and demanding. In other words, the perfect heroine for a horror novel. Margot refuses to allow her mother or grandmother to control her, always pushing and questioning what they are doing. It’s what lands her back in Phalene and what gets her into the center of all of the trouble.

Smart, haunting and horrifying, this novel begs to become a horror flick. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.

 

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

Jen didn’t want to move out of the city and onto a farm with her mother, leaving her father behind. She particularly doesn’t enjoy her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, who is always telling her how she should act. On the farm, Jen does love the hayloft with its privacy and kittens. She’s not quite sure about the chickens at first until she meets the fuzzy chicks, but even then taking care of them is a pain! When Walter’s two daughters come to visit on weekends, it’s particularly hard. The girls work at the farm’s stall at the market, selling berries, granola and flowers. But Andy, the oldest daughter, is bossy and constantly putting Jen down. Jen would much rather be drawing in her notebook than doing math at the market. Being a new family is hard, but small steps make big connections.

Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novelists. It is great to see her returning to graphic novels for children. She captures the emotions of being young with such empathy, valuing the perspective of her characters. She also allows her young characters to find their own way forward, the adults around and causing problems at times. Here it is figuring out how to be potential step-siblings while wrestling with a new life in the country, and a frog too.

Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction. As always, her illustrations are clear, funny and full of great moments.

Full of fresh air, chickens, garden-rampaging deer, and a complicated family, this graphic novel is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Review: Chirp by Kate Messner

Chirp by Kate Messner

Chirp by Kate Messner (9781547602810)

Mia is moving to Vermont where her grandmother has a cricket farm. Her arm is still recovering from being broken after a fall from a balance beam, but her mother insists that she go to summer camps. Mia chooses to attend a maker camp and also a warrior camp that will have her climbing rock walls and swinging from rings. As Mia makes new friends and finds new fans for her grandmother’s cricket treats, she is also helping by making a business plan for her grandmother’s farm. There are strange things happening at the farm though as disaster after disaster befalls the delicate crickets. Her grandmother insists that she is being sabotaged, but could her grandmother actually be losing her memory? Mia and her friends tackle the mystery, build up the business, and learn to speak out along the way too. 

Messner writes a middle grade novel that neatly embeds sexual harassment and abuse information into the story. In fact, that is at the heart of Mia’s injury and also at the heart of many women and girls that are in the book too. This book is deeply about survival as a girl, a woman and as a cricket. It’s about finding your voice, using your power and finding ways to get justice. It is also about the incredible bravery it takes to be a survivor, whether you have spoken out yet or not. 

Messner has written a compelling mystery to solve alongside the social justice. There are great suspects, more than one potential reason for the problems, and finally a dramatic resolution as well. Add in a science competition and you have one amazing Vermont summer filled with the crunch of crickets.

A great look at friendship, speaking out and taking back power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

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.

3 New Picture Books that Embrace Families

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald

Hooked by Tommy Greenwald, illustrated by David McPhail (9781596439962)

A young boy loves to spend his time fishing, but his father doesn’t want to join him in this picture book. Joe loves to fish, but his father just doesn’t understand the appeal and won’t participate. So Joe joins the local fishing club and they fish all over the area in different bodies of water. The in the winter, the club decides to do ice fishing and every kid will need an adult along. Joe is worried that his father will refuse again, but instead he agrees to do it just once. When the two of them get to the frozen lake, nothing much happens at first. Then they start to talk and talk together and suddenly Joe’s father understands.

This is a lovely quiet book, one that celebrates the silence and beauty of fishing and also the way that quiet hobbies can create opportunities for deep connection with others. Children not interested in fishing will still recognize the way that parents sometimes duck out of games and hobbies that they find unappealing. The illustrations are classic McPhail filled with luminous glowing light and a playful sense of storytelling. A great pick for fishing story times or for a quiet evening of stories together. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson (9781936932009)

This picture book talks about how different mothers love their children. The text is simple and straightforward but the examples are what makes this book stand out. Mothers use their bodies to care, like breastfeeding their babies. Mothers protest for better worlds for their babies. Some mothers stay home with their children while others work. Some mothers clean houses, others watch other people’s children, others work in government, others work in the fields. Some mothers wear uniforms and some dance for a living. All mothers, no matter what they do for a living, love their children.

The inclusion of mothers who may have to dance for a living is what makes this book so special. That combines with an acceptance of all lifestyles, of all races and religions in the illustrations of the book. The women come in all sizes and colors in the vintage-style collages throughout the book. There is an acceptance of everyone here that is hard to find in children’s books and makes this one for all libraries to own. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Feminist Press.)

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago

On the Other Side of the Garden by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yonkteng (9781554989836)

The author and illustrator of Walk with Me and Two White Rabbits return with a picture book that is immediately immersive. A little girl gets dropped off at her grandmother’s house by her father. When she wakes up in the night, there are three animals looking in at her through the window: an owl, a mouse and a frog. They seem friendly, so she opens the window for them. Soon they are inviting her out into the garden, her feet touching grass for the first time in a long time since she lived in the city. As they escape the house, the moon shines white on the page and lights their way. They explore the nearby creek, a hill that lets them look back at the house, and fields. The little girl starts to open up about why she is there at her grandmother’s house, a grandmother she barely knows. She returns back to the house just as the sun comes up, where her grandmother is waiting for her.

There is such beauty in this book. The tone of the text is wistful and wondering, inviting the reader along on the adventure. It is a journey of opening up, of finding new friends who warm you when the wind blows and who surprise and delight you. It is a book of knowing the truth but not being quite ready to face it yet. The illustrations are a play of dark and light. They fill the pages right to the edge, deep blue and full of nature and movement. They are stunningly lovely, unique and emotional. A very special book that is soulful and moving. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner\

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (9781626723313, Amazon)

Fox is always trying to sneak into the henhouse at the farm and steal a chicken. He’s so hungry, and so very tired of the turnips that the pig provides him after every defeat. No one on the farm is scared of him, particularly the chickens themselves. Fox turns to Wolf to get some tips on being more frightening and getting chickens. Wolf comes up with a plan to steal some eggs from the chickens and hatch their own meals. But Fox gets a lot more than he bargained for when three little chicks hatch from the eggs and suddenly think that Fox is their mother!

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for. Readers will adore the rabid little chicks who consider themselves foxes rather than chickens. It’s the Wolf that continues to be a shadowy dark force and one that will eventually have to be dealt with.

Renner’s illustrations are done in watercolor and don’t use traditional comic book framing or speech bubbles. Instead he keeps them very simple, using lines to show who is speaking and open spaces to convey a sense of framing each image. The illustrations are energetic and funny as well with the expressions on even the tiny chick’s faces easily understood.

A great pick for children’s graphic novels, this one is very special. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763674991, Amazon)

All you need to create a farm anywhere is soil, sunshine, water, and a seed. Which means you can make a farm just about anywhere! The book shows children and adults working together to make a garden in an empty lot. They find things in the garbage to use as pots and places for soil. The book also shows the kind of insects and animals that you might find in an urban garden, including neighbors who are excited by the green changes.

Root writes with a lovely warm tone, inviting readers along on this gardening adventure. The use of an urban setting is great to see in a picture book, especially showing children the creation of the space from the empty lot into a green center of activity. Root uses repetition and rhymes, creating a picture book that is a joy to share aloud. There is a wonderful playful nature about the book, the garden and the bounty.

Karas always creates a delightful feel in the picture books he illustrates. The children he shows are of various races and backgrounds. He shows a vibrant urban setting, filled with activity and energy. It’s just the sort of place that feels like something could happen, and here we get to see it from the ground up, literally.

A strong addition to gardening picture books, this is a perfect read aloud for spring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)

This picture book tells the true story of a lost creek that used to cross a prairie meadow. Then a farmer bulldozed dirt into the creek to create more farm land. Years later, another man purchased the field and heard from a neighbor about the creek that used to be there. He decided to try to find that creek. So he dug a creek bottom after consulting historic photographs of the land. He hoped that the water would return and it did. But a creek is more than running water and now it was up to him to bring more rocks, more plants and eventually trout in his newly rediscovered creek.

This book focuses on a compelling topic. That the land we live and farm on once used to be very different from the way it is now and that we can work to return it to its more natural state. The picture book has wonder at its center, the amazing notion that water once buried will return to a dry creek bed. It also focuses on the hard work that it took and the incredible problem solving that went into rebuilding the creek from literally the bottom up. Slowly it become reality with lots of work and patience.

The illustrations by McGehee are based directly on her visit to the land the book is about. Done on scratchboard, the illustrations have a wonderful weight to them, capturing the deep greens of the prairie, the richness of the biodiversity, and the transformation of the land.

A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.