Soosie the Horse That Saved Shabbat by Tami Lehman-Wilzig

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Soosie the Horse That Saved Shabbat by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt (9780998852775)

Long ago, when Jerusalem was still a small town, there was a bakery. The bakery specialized in challah, and made enough for the entire community. Jacob was the bakery’s delivery boy who drove the cart that was pulled by Soosie, the owners’ horse. The two traveled in the early morning along the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, delivering challah. As each family paid, the coins dropped into the metal bank with a clink-clang. They did the same route, day after day, month after month. But then one day, Jacob was too sick to make the deliveries. Jacob was certain that Soosie, the horse, could make the deliveries all on her own. So they put a note on the cart and sent her on her way. Soosie stopped at each place, accepted the money in the bank, and walked on. Back at the bakery, they worried about whether Soosie could do it all on her own. Three hours passed, and finally Soosie was home again with an empty wagon and a bank full of coins.

Inspired by the history of Angel Bakery in Jerusalem, the author created a gentle folktale about dependability, challah and Shabbat. The author explains the details of Shabbat in her author notes, including the importance of animal rights as a part of Shabbat. Her writing pays homage to folklore capturing the same repeating elements as Jacob and Soosie make their regular rounds. She also uses plenty of sounds in her writing, emphasizing them and inviting participation.

The illustrations are light-hearted and merry. From the bustling bakery to the stable next door to the many people of Jerusalem they interact with. The entire book has the same quiet humor and good-natured belief in one another.

Paying homage to folklore and Jerusalem, this Jewish picture book is full of the warmth of bread and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Kalaniot Books.

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.

Clever Hans by Kerri Kokias

Clever Hans by Kerri Kokias

Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery (9780525514985)

In 1904 in Berlin, Germany, Wilhelm von Osten had an extraordinary horse named Clever Hans. Hans could count and tell time. He could identify colors and the value of coins. He could do math, read words, and knew music as well. Many people didn’t believe that Hans could really do these things and assumed it was nothing but a trick. Wilhelm von Osten truly believed in his horse though, having spent four years teaching him using treats to keep him focused. Scientists came to test Clever Hans and watch for secret signals from van Osten or others in the audience. Soon the tests started to figure out how Clever Hans was doing such amazing things! It wasn’t a trick, but instead showed exactly how smart he actually was.

Kokias invites readers deep into the mystery and wonder of Clever Hans. She sets up her book so that readers are presented with the amazing things that the horse can do and then bring them along on the journey of exploring what was actually happening. The book is gripping and fascinating as readers steadily see their own theories dismissed by the experts and the final reveal of the truth is satisfying and fascinating. The art by Lowery has a great playfulness to it that adds to the delight of the book.

A book of scientific discovery that readers must finish to discover how Clever Hans does it. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai (9780062229236)

Hang has lived with the fact that she was responsible for her little brother being taken away to American in the last days of the Vietnam War. She had hoped for them both to be taken together, but instead he was ripped screaming from her. Now, six years later,  Hang has come to the United States herself and is determined to find her little brother by following the only clue she has, an address on a card. Not finding anyone at the address, Hang is helped by an urban cowboy, LeeRoy, who longs to ride in rodeos and follow his dreams. LeeRoy is quickly caught up in Hang’s quest and the two of them discover her brother with some lucky help along the way. But that is just the beginning of a summer spent laboring on a farm together, learning about the work of being a cowboy, and finding ways to connect their pasts and their present.

The first chapters of the this book and many of them throughout are so laced with pain and ache that readers will feel it in their own bones. Lai tells the story of Hang in bursts of memory, escaping from the tight hold Hang has over them. The reader and Hang are powerless as the searing memories escape, glimpses of the truth and eventually the full story of a girl strong enough to survive pirates, parasites, icy water, and war. Lai takes two very unlikely protagonists and creates a love story for them, one that captivates with its honesty and originality.

Hang is one of the most remarkable protagonists I have read in years. Far from being broken by her wartime trauma, she continues to fight back, literally at times. She is raw, sarcastic and not defined by her past, but still continuing to be haunted by what happened. She is complicated and so profoundly human. Lai made a brave and smart choice to write Hang’s accented English with Vietnamese typography, echoing Hang’s own notebook that tells her own English is pronounced. Readers will struggle along with Hang at first, but join LeeRoy in understanding her quickly.

Painful and traumatic, this book is filled with sweat, work and more than a little love. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

let 'er buck! george fletcher, the people's champion by vaunda micheaux nelson

Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James (9781541541801)

George Fletcher moved to Pendleton, Oregon, a place where there weren’t a lot of African-Americans. He made friends with the children from the Umatilla Indian Reservation and learned how to train horses with gentleness. George started riding in competitions at age 16, though he was often shut out of competitions because of the color of his skin or judged unfairly. He got his chance to really show off his skill at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, the biggest rodeo in the Northwest. He made the top three finalists for the Saddle Bronc Championship. He outrode the other two competitors, and when the white person was named champion the crowd booed. One man in the crowd decided it wasn’t alright and sold small pieces of George’s hat to the crowd for $5 each. He turned the money over to George and it ended up being more than the grand prize. George was crowned the “People’s Champion” that day.

Nelson writes with a lovely western twang in this nonfiction picture book. She captures the spirit of the west in the words she uses and in particular in her metaphors. George took to the ways of the Umatilla tribes “like a wet kitten to a warm brick.” Ranching suited George “like made-to-measure boots.” These are just two examples of the vivid way that Nelson uses language to firmly place her book in its setting. She also creates a compelling portrait of Fletcher and faces the inherent racism of the system head on.

The illustrations by James are full of color and motion. Created with oil on board, they are a stunning mix of movement, depth and history. One can almost see the action playing out from the lines he uses. Stunning

A strong picture book about racism, horses, rodeos and heroism. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

Review: A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis

A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis

A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver (9780802855145)

A haunting look at the plight of refugees, this short piece of fiction will work well for children and adults alike. Rami floats in the water in a small dinghy with seven other people. All of them are fleeing their homeland in the hopes of finding shelter elsewhere. But the boat motor has broken down and they are now adrift. Rami is alone except for his violin, and he begins to weave a tale filled with music to keep their spirits up. It is a tale of a young man who rescues an orphaned colt from the snow and grows to be able to ride the stallion because he respects the horse’s freedom. As the tale is woven, it is not just a story about horseriding, but also one about power, brutality and the cost of freedom.

Lewis has written a book that dances the line between children’s book and adult book very nicely. It can also seem almost a picture book as the illustrations sweep across the pages. Lewis’ writing is beautiful and filled with emotion. The dangers of the refugee experience are shown tangibly on the page, as are the stories of what they have lost from war. The story of the stallion is given equal weight in the book, rounding out the book and offering another angle from which to view the same story in the end. It is a story that arcs around and creates a whole out of two separate tales wrapped in song.

The illustrations by Weaver are breathtaking, woven from blues and whites. They fill with light and dark, playing against one another and revealing images built from luminescence, music, and wind. The illustrations suit the dark tale so perfectly that the book is one cohesive story.

A dramatic and human look at the refugee crisis and its many victims. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi (9780802855091)

In this wordless picture book, a barbarian mounts his horse and proceeds across a series of challenges and obstacles. They leap a crevasse, are attacked by a flock of birds, jump a pit of snakes, dodge arrows, avoid orcs and much more. Page after page is a new obstacle and the little barbarian blithely marching, leaping or galloping across the page. Children who enjoy fantasy creatures will love this barbarian who faces the challenges with his eyes closed and sword and shield raised. When the truth is revealed at the end of the book, everyone will want another ride.

There is plenty of space for young imaginations to fill in the stories. That is probably the best part of this. I don’t expect the book to read particularly quickly with small children, who will want to supply monster noises, sword crashes and heroic details to the tale. Still, the oblivious way the barbarian crosses the pages is quite funny. The high and low paths the barbarian takes make perfect sense at the end of the book with the twist. The illustrations are humorous, colorful and filled with imagination, making the book entirely compelling.

A delight of a wordless read, this is one that children with their own toy swords will love. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Do You Believe in Unicorns by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (9780763694685)

That must be a horse wearing a tall hat, right? It couldn’t be a unicorn in disguise. Perhaps it’s all in how you choose to see things. Maybe the horse is having a bad hair day? It could just like the color red. Yet even when the hat is removed, there’s still a question of whether you the reader believe in unicorns or not. So, do you?

This very simple book has text with a modern vibe that keeps the book firmly rooted in today rather than a mythical world. So the questions become whether young readers believe in unicorns right now, or not. The illustrations are a huge part of the book, particularly when the hat comes off. The horn question remains unanswered thanks to clever formations and shapes behind the animal’s head.

Funny and nicely designed for both horse and unicorn lovers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (9780735230378)

Adrian Simcox is always talking at school about the horse that he owns. But Chloe knows he is lying, since he lives with his grandfather in a small house in town. There is no room there for a horse. She also knows that Adrian’s family isn’t wealthy and a horse costs a lot of money to keep. So Chloe complains to her friends, her mother and eventually to the entire class about Adrian lying. When Chloe’s mother takes her to Adrian’s house, Chloe knows she is going to be proven right. But she doesn’t bargain for what she is actually going to find there.

This beautifully told story will have readers siding with Chloe from the beginning, since her reasons for not believing Adrian are clear and logical. Still, as the story unfolds readers will start to understand what Adrian is doing long before Chloe does and will begin to feel for him and relate to Adrian. The book does this without becoming didactic at all, instead naturally leading children to an empathy before Chloe gets there. The prose is strong and the pacing is just right in this quiet book.

The illustrations by Luyken are done with lots of white space around Chloe and then riotous plants and gardens around Adrian. Even on the playground, there is a sense that Adrian can create his own world out of imagination, filling the white space in a way that the others can’t. It’s an ideal analogy for the story line itself.

A great book to discuss lying and imagination, friendship and support. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.