A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)
A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)
Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)
This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)
This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9780763690847, Amazon)
Nominated for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year, this picture book is exceptional. In a time of war, the library is burned and only one book survives. Peter’s father has that book and creates an iron box to keep it safe. When Peter and his father flee their town, they carry the book with them. Peter’s father dies on the journey and he continues to carry the book with him, even leaving behind his suitcase to manage it. Finally, Peter must leave the box behind, but he hides it safely first. Years later, Peter is able to return to the box and rescue the book, restoring it to his hometown and its library.
Wild’s lovely and simple text allows the drama of the story elements to speak for themselves, never injecting more horror into it. That approach allows the reader to feel deeply the loss and pain of losing one’s homeland. Even the death of Peter’s father is subtle and gentle, allowing the grief to permeate more fully. It makes the focus on the importance of the book all the more tangible and vital.
It is Blackwood’s illustrations that truly make this book amazing. She has created layered illustrations that have shadows and depth to them. Throughout the images, there are pages of books shown. They fall as scraps of paper with words of hope on them, dash across the page as rain, and form the smoke of the burning town. They create the landscape and the foundation beautifully. Here is an image from the book and Blackwood’s blog:
A war-torn book that speaks to the power of history and knowledge along with resistance and resilience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Mericle Harper (InfoSoup)
Released February 9, 2016.
Every card has a special grown up job, except for Little Card and Long Card. There were cards who were price tags, others were office folders, others were postcards. So the two cards waited for their special letter to arrive. But on the day the letter arrived, the two cards collided and cards went everywhere. Little Card picked up a letter and read that he was going to be a birthday card! He got lots of training and found that he loved everything about being a birthday card. But one day when he got home, Long Card was there and told him there had been a mix up. She was the birthday card and he was a different type of card. It was too late to be trained again, so Little Card was sent off immediately to work at the library as a library card. He tried to use his birthday card training at his new job, but his loud singing wasn’t welcome. Little Card soon learned though what special things were available at the library and was thrilled in the end to know that he could be at the library more than once a year!
This clever take on libraries and having a library card is very nicely structured. The exuberance of Little Card makes the book read aloud well. Children will enjoy the pleasure of the birthday card part of the book, the loud singing, the cake, and the balloons. One might think that that would overshadow the more quiet library portion of the book, but the author made sure to make the library part just as appealing, so the result is that libraries are shown as being just as much fun and just as joyous as a birthday party. Hurrah!
The illustrations of the book are just as fun and buoyant as the story itself. Done in ink washes, pencil, pen and ink, and stamps, they were also colored digitally. They have a nice simplicity to them that will make this book easy to share with groups. The sprightly Little Card dances (literally) across the page and invites children to have a great time with the book and at the library.
A jaunty picture book about libraries, this book will be welcome for library tour groups as well as for introducing children to libraries as a place of fun. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
The Midnight Library only opens at night. Then a little librarian and her three owl assistants help all sorts of animals find the right books. The library was quiet and peaceful until a band of squirrels showed up looking for a place to practice. Luckily, the library had an activity room where they could play music without disturbing anyone else. It was quiet again until it started to rain, but it was raining inside the library. It was Mrs. Wolf crying about something she read in a book. The librarian and her assistants helped her finish the story and reach the happy ending. Finally, it was time to close for the night and there was one very slow patron who would not leave, but the little librarian solved that situation happily too. This is a clever and creative look at libraries and their services in a way that children will easily relate to.
Kohara is author of several other picture books all done in her signature style. Here she cleverly takes a library and adds mystery by making it open at night. The addition of animals as patrons also creates an interesting twist. I also appreciated a library being depicted as a place that you can play music. So often the focus is on the quiet and solitude, but this is one happening library!
Kohara uses the colors on the cover of the book throughout the story. The deep blues and blacks are enlivened by the bright yellow-orange that forms most of the background. Her use of printmaking techniques creates thick lines with an organic dappling effect. These prints feel like woodblocks but have lines that swirl and curve unlike most block prints.
Clever, lively and great fun, this picture book is perfect for sleepy library fans. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson
A follow-up to the wonderful Lola series, this new book aims for a slightly younger audience. It focuses on Lola’s little brother, Leo. Leo loves going to Baby Time at the public library. He gets to play games, sing lots of songs, play with animals and make friends. The book also focuses on Leo getting ready to go. He has breakfast, sits in his stroller and heads to the library. Families who go to similar programs at their public library will enjoy seeing the familiar games and songs here. Those who haven’t tried it yet, may be inspired to climb into their strollers and head on over.
As someone who works in a library, McQuinn clearly understands how programs for babies work. She highlights all of the positive things that the programs do. She also limits the words on the page to make this book ideal for very young children who are just heading to their first library programs. Hearson’s illustrations have a cheery warmth to them that really capture children interacting in a program and connecting with one another too.
Printed on sturdy pages, this book is safe to hand to very small children who are progressing past board books. It would also be a great one to use with families just starting to use libraries in your community. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debbie Atwell
Annie Carroll Moore grew up in Limerick, Maine in a time when girls were not encouraged to be opinionated but she had her own ideas. Children in that time were also not allowed in libraries, especially not girls, because reading was not seen as important. Annie had always loved stories and books and though she thought at one time of being a lawyer like her father, she decided to become a librarian. She studied in New York City, living alone even though others thought it was dangerous. Miss Moore became a children’s librarian at the Pratt Free Library, with a room designed just for children. She had new ideas, of course, like letting children take books home and removing the large “SILENCE” signs from the libraries. As her new ideas took hold, Miss Moore changed library service for children into what we love today.
Pinborough clearly admires Miss Moore and her gumption and willingness to approach problems with new ideas. Miss Moore’s life work is detailed here but we also get to see to her personal life and the tragedies that marred it. Perhaps my favorite piece is the ending, where Miss Moore retires in her own special way, on her own terms. Don’t miss the author’s note with more information about Miss Moore as well as a couple of photographs of the woman herself.
The illustrations by Atwell have the rustic feel of folk art. It is colorful, vibrant and lends the entire work a playfulness that is entirely appropriate to the subject.
A celebration of one woman who changed the face of library service to children around the world, this book will be welcomed by librarians and children alike. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
Told from the point of view of one of the protesters in modern Egypt, this is the true story of how the Alexandria Library was saved during the protests. As the crowd moved toward the library, which was built on the same ground as the ancient Library of Alexandria, the library director came outside and spoke to them. He pointed out that the library had no gates to lock and no way to protect the large doors made of glass. It was up to the people to save the treasures inside. The crowd pressed on and the shouting grew louder. But then one young man ran up the steps of the library and joined hands with the library director. Then more and more people joined hands, a living barrier protecting the library.
The writing here tells the story clearly and concisely. There is fear of the mob mentality woven into the story, a trepidation at what could happen with that many passionate and angry people in a large group. The energy of that mob and that mood carries the book forward. That moment of decision by the crowd hangs jewel-like in the book, the one person who does the right thing first and then those who follow. It’s a book and a story that pivots in a moment of bravery.
Roth’s collages capture the press of the crowd and its passion, but also the fact that these are regular people who were creating change. The illustrations have a flatness to them that works well much of the time. It is particularly effective when hands are joined in a chain.
A powerful look at the importance of libraries and the bravery of a few, this book is also a reminder that we are witnessing history being made. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer, illustrated by Chris Sheban
When the book first arrived at the library, it was shiny and new. It was placed on display and a long list of children waited to read it. Then the book was moved to the regular children’s shelves with other books that were not so new too. It was still happy, since it got checked out often. But as the book grew older, it got checked out less and less. It had a tear and was missing its last page. Then one day, a girl found the book, read it and loved it. She took it home, carried it to school with her, and even shared it at show and tell. The book felt loved again. But the next story time, the girl chose a different book and forgot the special book. She remembered when she got home, but the library was already closed. Then when she got to the library a week later, the book was gone, withdrawn and meant for the book sale. This is a sentimental but gorgeous book that every person who has ever loved a book will enjoy.
When I started this book, I was not a fan. I worried that it would tip into the saccharine and overly sweet. It is sentimental, as I mentioned above, but it never tips too far into that mode. Instead I found myself reading a book that brought me back to the joy of discovering books as a child and finding myself closely attached to them. I still can’t have a logical discussion of the Little House on the Prairie series, since I read them to tatters as a little girl. I love this book for bringing me back to that.
Sheban’s art is soft and dreamy. There are often books that glow with the wonder inside of them, something that book lovers will really appreciate. This is a quiet book, and the art supports that, depicting quiet time reading and bonding with a story.
A great gift for any book-loving child, I think this book will speak most to adults who look fondly back on the books of their childhood. Perhaps a holiday gift for your favorite librarian or reading teacher. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack
Muktar lives in a Somalian orphanage after his parents have died. His parents had roamed Somalia with camels before the drought and war changed everything. Now all Muktar has of his old life is a withered root that his father gave him and told him to use wisely. Then one day, a man arrives with three camels loaded with books. Muktar is asked to help unload the camels and as he does, he notices a wound on the foot of one camel. The librarian is too busy to listen to his concerns, so Muktar creates a poultice with the root his father gave him. By the time the librarian discovers the problem, the camel’s foot is better and Muktar has impressed him enough to offer him a job with the camels.
This book is based on the library service of the Kenya National Library Service which has camel convoys of books eight times a month that serve schools and orphanages in the outlying areas. Muktar and his love of animals shines in this book. His skill with camels is impressive as is his strength in the face of such overwhelming change in his life. Graber’s text tells the story plainly, not dwelling too long on the loss but more on the present. Mack’s illustrations, done in oils on canvas, show a land dried and hardened, but people who are surviving despite the obstacles.
Recommended as a window to another way of living, this book is appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.