On the Trapline by David A. Robertson

Cover image for On the Trapline.

On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (9780735266681)

A boy travels with his grandpa, Moshom, to his trapline up north. Moshom hasn’t returned to the trapline since he was a boy himself. The trapline is where people hunted animals and lived off the land, Moshom explains to his grandson. Once the small plane lands, the two meet one of Moshom’s old friends. They pull up to a small house near a big lake, but that is not the trapline. It’s where Moshom lived after they left the trapline. In the winter, everyone slept together in the room with the wood stove to keep warm. Moshom shows his grandson the ruins of the school he went to, where he was required to speak in English and not Cree. They head out on the water in a slow boat, until they finally reach the trapline. Moshom shows him where they trapped muskrats, where their tent was, and how they lived on the trapline. As they leave, the two of them can continue to envision the trapline as it is now and as it once was.

The Governor General Award winning team returns with a book about connection to the land, deep memories, family ties and generations sharing stories. The warm relationship between Moshom and his grandson, who narrates the book, is clear and central to the book. The grandson regularly asks whether this place is the trapline, until they reach the real trapline and it is clear. The book examines memories, both dark and happy, alongside physical discovery of the places. It’s a powerful look at experiences and connection.

As always, Flett’s illustrations are exceptional. Done in pastel and then manipulated digitally, they have a muted natural palette that works for both memories and current times. The greens are deep and rich, the blues offer clear skies and rich water.

A look at grandfathers, memories and the importance of place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol

Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol (9781250314871)

When Freda goes blueberry picking with her Gran, she tries to eat all of the blueberries right away. Even though the blueberries are best when first picked, Freda isn’t able to eat them all. Her Gran reminds Freda that she makes the blueberries into jam to preserve them so they can be enjoyed longer. That gave Freda an idea! She started saving everything she wanted to keep fresh in jars. She kept a warm cookie, unscuffed sneakers, an unmelted popsicle, flowers, birds’ eggs, and much more. She even put her best friend in a jar before he could move away. She saved music, rainbows, clouds, stars and the moon. Freda had saved all of her favorite things, except one. When Gran got into the jar, Freda’s world was very quiet. That’s when she tried some of the blueberry jam, which reminded her of summer, friendship, her grandparents and much more. Freda remembered it all.

This picture book looks at our desire to stop things where they are and not allow them to change. Freda’s ability to jar everything she loves is both marvelously creepy but also immensely satisfying, at first. Brosgol allows the story to go on until the world becomes empty and silent around Freda. It isn’t until then that her memories of her friends and family return and refill her world. Still, Brosgol hints at the end that it may not quite be over yet.

The illustrations capture the warmth of Freda’s life and her connection to her grandmother. The shadows enter Freda’s world as she surrounds herself with jars of all of her favorite things, basically in suspended animation. The jars fill her space with a cold glass emptiness where you can only see shadows inside of them. It’s very effective and a relief to return to the brighter colors again.

A book that shows us all why we need to let life happen rather than clinging too tight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

In a Jar by Deborah Marcero (9780525514596)

Llewellyn was a rabbit who loved to collect things in jars. He collected small things from his days like bright yellow leaves in the autumn which would remind him of what he had done and seen. One night when the sunset turned the sky “the color of tart cherry syrup,” Llewellyn went down to the shore with a lot of jars. He gathered the light of the night into his jars and gave one to a girl who came by. Evelyn was amazed to find that the in the jar glowed all night long the color of sunsets. Soon the two of them were gathering all sorts of things in jars like rainbows, the sound of the ocean, and even entire seasons. Their collection got very large, until one day Evelyn’s family moved away. For some time, Llewellyn felt like an empty jar but then he had an idea. He went out one night and collected a meteor shower in a jar and sent it to Evelyn. In turn, she collected the sounds and lights of the big city she now lived in and sent it to Llewellyn. Llewellyn set out on an autumn day to gather a jar for Evelyn and that’s when he met Max, and Llewellyn happened to have a jar for him too. 

Marcero sets the tone for this book right from the first page. You simply know that something amazing and magical is about to happen. She does this with simple words that children will easily follow and then also throws in lines like the sky the color of “tart cherry syrup” and “the wind just before snow falls.” Each of these lines creates a beautiful image and moment for the reader, indicating that something special is happening. This continues through the book, reminding readers that it is these moments that make life magical, whether you can bottle them or not. 

The art here is tremendously gorgeous. Marcero creates pages of meteor showers, sunsets filled with birds soaring, and entire seasons on two pages that are filled with moments of wonder and amazement, and yet that are also moments we could all have and share. There’s a beautiful tension between the beauty on the page and also the normalcy of it all. 

A picture book that shows everyone that these magical moments are there for us all to collect and share. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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

Review: The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie (9781534414464)

When Gwyn and her family move in with her Nana in rural Iowa, it’s a big change from living in New York City. It’s all to help her mother, Vienna, develop new memories. Vienna remembers nothing since she was thirteen, including Gwyn and her little sister Bitty. Gwyn and Bitty quickly befriend two boys from the neighborhood, Micah and Jimmy. They live with Micah’s mother, Gaysie Cutter, a woman who tries to bury Gwyn alive the first time they meet. So when a man goes missing, Gwyn knows that Gaysie had to have something to do with it. Now she just has to prove it and not damage her friendship with Jimmy and Micah along the way. But there are many secrets in their small town, ones that threaten to topple Gwyn’s theory of Gaysie’s guilt.

This is Makechnie’s first novel, and it is very impressive. Gwyn is a stellar character, who doesn’t shy away from being entirely herself and different from everyone else. She is a girl who will learn how to lift fingerprints, share her theories directly with the police, stand up to a group of bullies, and dare to speak up around Gaysie Cutter. All of the characters are well drawn and interesting, including Gwyn’s mother who is struggling with the limits of her memory, her father who could be a suspect too, and the two boys who are as different as possible but also brothers through and through.

This story has many layers, making it a very rich read for middle graders. One piece that really works well is the layering of the previous generation growing up in the same small Iowa town. As Gwyn learns of the connection between her mother, father and Gaysie during their childhood, she also finds out about a terrible accident that changed them all forever. That element is then echoed through to the present day with the new generation of children getting into trouble themselves.

A great read, a grand mystery, and a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond

harry-millers-run-by-david-almond

Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (9780763689759)

Developed from the short story that appeared in Half a Creature from the Sea, this children’s fiction version is illustrated in full color. Liam wants to be out with his friends practicing for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, but his mother wants him to come to help Harry clear out his home. As they visit with Harry, he shares the story of his own run as a boy when he and some friends ran from their town all the way to the sea. It’s a story of friendship, shared experience, a hot sunny day, and the wonder of ice cream at the end.

I enjoyed this short story immensely in the original short story collection and was very pleased to discover it again in this illustrated format. The story is immensely fun, beginning with the mistake of how far the boys were actually going to run and then their determination to finish anyway. Framed by the story of Harry as an old man telling the tale and Liam listening, the story within a story shines with the brightness of a summer day against the more somber tones of aging.

Rubbino’s illustrations make this version of the story accessible for younger audiences who will appreciate the text being broken up by bright-colored images. The illustrations reflect the story with the modern illustrations done in blacks and grays with a pop of blue provided by Harry’s cap. The illustrations for Harry’s memories suddenly turn into full color with Harry still in the same blue cap.

A lovely new version that makes this story available to more people, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando (InfoSoup)

Six kindergarteners were taken and now eleven years later, five are returned. The six teens who had disappeared have no memories of their captivity or those that took them. Now they are sixteen and seem to be remarkably OK. They have vague memories of one another, but none of them have any memory of the six child who was taken with them. Avery, the younger sister of that still-missing boy, finds it difficult to deal with the others returning but her family being forgotten. Scarlett, one of the teens taken, returns home to find a sober mother with a serious boyfriend, a vast difference from her mother before. Scarlett though feels that she is not able to figure out the person she actually is. Lucas returns home to see his father die in front of him and is accused of being involved in his death. As all of them struggle to figure out what happened to them and what their future is bringing, there are more questions than answers.

This taut thriller of a book takes a daring look at memories, families and what makes us who we are. Readers will have to set aside their incredulity at the memory loss and go along for the ride here, allowing themselves to be part of the whiplash of the riveting plot and the horror of what happened to these children. There is real depth in this novel for teens, looking beyond the bleakness of the kidnapping and into the question of childhood trauma and what makes a normal teen and adult.

The three main characters are well developed and interesting, particularly Avery, who has a unique point of view and intact memories. Her skepticism at the teens’ story of memory loss will echo that of the reader. Her continued concern for her own brother demonstrates the additional victims of the crime, the family members. Scarlett and Lucas are strong characters as well, searching for any clues they can find to unravel what happened to them. The other teens who were returned are less well drawn, with one of them almost disappearing from the novel until much later in the story.

Told through specific points of view, this novel keeps its edge right up to the end. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.