Review: Bear Out There by Jacob Grant

Bear Out There by Jacob Grant

Bear Out There by Jacob Grant (9781681197456)

This second book about Bear and his friend Spider follows Bear’s Scare. Bear is happy staying at home all day, being cozy and warm. Spider though has a kite that he wants to fly, and he loves to be outdoors. When Spider’s kite gets away from him, Spider asks Bear for help finding it. So Bear heads out into the itchy, bug-filled, dirty woods along with his friend. The two search for a long time, Bear completely missing the charm of the woods. When it starts to rain though, the entire adventure gets bleak and disheartening. The two friends though, never quit. They eventually find the kite tangled in the trees. Now can they find a way of compromising and finding some indoor/outdoor fun together?

Grant writes with a great wry sense of humor that really allows Bear to be just as grumpy as he likes without the book ever becoming too filled with complaints. Spider helps in that way too, without saying a word, keeping spirits high and trying to show Bear how lovely the outdoors actually are. The text is simple and the pace is just right for a walk in the woods.

As with the first book, Grant’s art is perfect for sharing with a group. He fills the pages with color and large shapes. Even small Spider can be easily viewed by children seated on the floor. The art is welcoming and simple.

A look at the wonders of nature through the lens of a friendship. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (9781536200171)

Astrid loves living in her tiny village in the mountains. The only problem is that no other children live nearby. She does have a best friend, Gunnvald, a neighbor in his seventies who loves to play the fiddle and can be rather grumpy. Astrid spends her time playing outside, building prototype sleds with Gunnvald, and bothering the owner of the wellness retreat nearby. When some children do come to the retreat (where children are forbidden) Astrid becomes friends with them despite having a fight first. Astrid’s world is idyllic, but something is about to change. When Gunnvald has an accident and has to have surgery, the secret he has been keeping from Astrid is revealed. Could it be that nothing will ever go back to normal again?

This Norwegian book has been translated into languages and sold around the world. It’s wonderful to see it on American shelves. Parr writes with a delightful sense of merriment throughout her book. She speaks to the importance of children having freedom and an ability to make choices in their life (even if one of those choices can’t be missing school all the time). She also demonstrates what a life lived outdoors looks like and the importance of loving a place and identifying with it.

The book uses the story of Heidi as a central plot point, which is very interesting since I had been thinking of how much this tale was like Heidi from the start. It is partly the setting itself of a mountaintop with an older man who is grumpy yet warm. But another large component is the character at the heart of both stories. Astrid, like Heidi, is fiercely independent and loves with all her being.

Richly told, this book is a delightful wintry read that feels like a long-lost classic. Get it into the hands of fans of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay.jpg

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay (9781773061382)

Mustafa and his family had to leave their country and traveled a long way to reach their new home. Sometimes Mustafa dreams of where they used to live, dreams of fire, smoke and noise. Then his mother shows him the moon, the same moon that shines over both of their homes. Mustafa’s apartment is above a green park. In the park, Mustafa sees a girl walking a cat on a ribbon, but when she speaks he can’t understand her. The next day, Mustafa is back in the park drawing what he saw in his last home. The girl comes to draw with him and soon her butterflies and flowers overtake his burning buildings and broken trees. Mustafa keeps going to the park, but no one else approaches him. He begins to wonder if he’s invisible. Then once again the same girl sees him. They feed the fish in the fountain together and swing high side-by-side. Then they learn one another’s names.

Gay tells the story of a child refugee in way that shows the dangers and oppression of his past in ways that children will understand. He experiences them in dark dreams and in drawing his experiences and fears in the dirt. At the same time, this does not minimize his past at all. The language barriers are also fully explored here as well as the isolation that child refugees can feel in their new society. It is a book that avoids being didactic about what children should do and instead shows what a single kindness can create in another’s life.

The illustrations have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom that resonates with the story being told. They are done in pastel colors that then move on the vibrancy of autumn. Skilled use of watercolors gives a sense of motion and change on the page as well as the feeling that there are possibilities waiting to be discovered.

A warm look at welcoming refugee families to their new home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Run Wild by David Covell

Run Wild by David Covell

Run Wild by David Covell (9780670014118)

Head outside with this picture book that encourages children to run in nature. Sunshine, fresh air, breezes and dirt are all celebrated here. Jump in the water, talk to worms, run through the woods. The joy of running fast, getting dirty, howling and diving. The book is entirely outdoors and movement through nature, a pelting quick book that is full of natural delights.

The text has organic rhymes embedded in it. It works really well read aloud where the rhymes fall into place in a natural way, encouraging children to be loose and free, just like the text. The illustrations are just as loose as the text suggests. They are filled with trees, mushrooms, birds, caves, water, and children.

A fresh and natural read that encourages children to play outside for the day. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Viking.

3 New Picture Books Bringing History to Life

All That Trash The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy (9781481477529)

In 1987, when a New York landfill was almost out of room, Lowell Harrelson decided to take the trash and move it far away using a barge. His plan was to use the garbage to create methane gas that would be turned into electricity in North Carolina. But the garbage barge never made it to North Carolina, when the state got a court order to stop the barge. The barge was also not welcome in Alabama or Louisiana. It eventually made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and tried to enter Mexico, but that country refused it entry as well. Eventually, the barge returned to waters near New York, prepared to return the garbage to where it had come from. But even that was not simple. Finally, after five months at sea and traveling over 6,000 miles, the garbage was incinerated on order by a judge.

McCarthy nicely plays up two aspects of the story of the garbage barge, the ludicrous nature of the barge being stuck at sea for months and the environmental impact of the trash that humans create. She uses a light tone and light touch in her writing, making it accessible for children who will not have heard of the barge before. She also offers more details at the end of the book, explaining how the crew survived on the barge for so long and offering facts about the barge. She also has recycling facts, garbage facts, and information on ocean garbage in particular. A bibliography is also attached.

Part of the light tone of the book are the illustrations which feature McCarthy’s signature bug-eyed characters. She incorporates speech bubbles and larger images to effectively break up the text into readable chunks.

A funny and amazing true story of the garbage barge that captured the attention of everyone in 1987. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes (9781419728396)

At the age of 67, Emma Gatewood became the first woman to hike all 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone. She was also the first person to complete the trail three times. In this picture book, readers follow her along on her historic trek. With accompanying maps, the journey is filled with nature, rocks and streams. There are encounters with bears, plenty of rain, and many pairs of ruined shoes.

The book takes a warm look at her accomplishments, showing exactly why she was drawn to walk the trail, the beauty she found there and the peace she discovered along the way. The illustrations are playful and bright, focusing on the landscape and the journey often with Gatewood a small figure amongst nature and other times showing her right at the center. A wonderful book about an inspiring figure who journeyed through life in her own unique way. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.)

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780544704527)

Told from the point of view of a child participating in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963, this picture book uses verse to take children back in history. Starting with Dr. Martin Luther King speaking to their congregation, the book shows why it was necessary for children to march, since adults would lose their jobs. The picture book shows how frightened the children were to march but also how very brave they were to overcome those fears and continue. As children were jailed for their actions, the protests continued. When the rest of America saw children being knocked down by fire hoses, even the President took notice and soon change came and children brought that change!

This is a powerful look at the importance of standing up and protesting when things are wrong in our society. While it is about an event in the Civil Rights struggle, it resonates with today’s marches for Black Lives Matter and other causes such as immigration rights. The importance of the Children’s Crusade is explored in the afterword as well. The verse of the book has a quiet but firm tone, telling the tale and letting the courage of the children stand. The illustrations focus both on the crowd of children but also on the faces of individuals and their willingness to stand strong and march together.

An important read about a protest that must never be forgotten. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Secrets I Know by Kallie George

Secrets I Know by Kallie George

Secrets I Know by Kallie George, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (9781101938935, Amazon)

A little girl spends a rainy day playing in her backyard and sharing secrets with the reader. She knows lots of secrets like secrets are for whispering and whispers hide in trees. She uses the tree as an umbrella and then her umbrella as a boat for her toys. She and her puppy play in the sandbox and have a tea party there, the sunshine sweetening the tea. A friend joins her and they play dress up and then head outside to the trees once again when darkness falls and the stars come out.

George writes with a poetic simplicity here. In the little girl’s voice, she chains together the different experiences she is having, each one leading naturally to the next. It’s rather like a daisy-chain of a picture book spent outside and having a wonderful time whether on her own or with a friend.

Zakimi’s illustrations are detailed and filled with warmth. The blustery and rainy day is shown as an opportunity to play outside and have fun, not as anything that limits activities. Even darkness can’t stop the little girl from enjoying herself outdoors as stars fill the sky. The use of just one backyard as the canvas for the day shows how large imagination can be and how much fun can be had.

A simple book with lots of big ideas, this picture book shows how any day can be a special one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade Books.

How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder

how-to-find-a-fox-by-nilah-magruder

How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder (InfoSoup)

A little girl sets out to find a fox. She immediately finds a fox hole, but the fox isn’t home. She sets out fox bait, then hides and waits so long that she gets sleepy. She tries following fox tracks, but fox are sneaky animals. She puts out more bait and eventually falls fast asleep. She tries making fox calls. Finally, when she climbs a tree to look around, she spots the fox! But she loses him. The little girl is ready to give up, but convinces herself to keep on trying. Perhaps the solution is making the fox want to find her!

Magruder has created a wonderfully appealing picture book with an African-American protagonist. Both the little girl and the fox are dynamic characters who capture your attention. While the little girl searches for the fox, young readers will love spotting him themselves as the little girl just happens to be looking in the wrong direction. These missed encounters add to the excitement of the book. The entire book reads very well and is perfect to share aloud. It shares the value of resilience and persistence.

The art has a lot of charm and is reminiscent of Dora the Explorer which will make this a book that children pick up. There are illustrations that are wonderful, such as the little girl about to give up, lying flat on her back on the grass, spent. The art will project well for a group.

A great addition to storytime units on foxes or being outside. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins (InfoSoup)

Frank was having a horrible day until his parents took him to get a new dog at the shelter. That’s when Frank met Lucky and Lucky met Frank. They learned a lot about each other, but they also both just loved learning things. Lucky loved science, especially learning about the ducks in the pond. He also loved exploring nature, handily bringing a lot of it back with him when he returned home so that Frank could study it closely. There was math too, questions about how many dog biscuits Lucky deserved and how much hair he could shed. Dogs can even be heroes, though Lucky may not have been particularly heroic when eating the entire birthday cake. Art, languages, geography and more were studied as Lucky and Frank spend time together. There is so much to learn when on walks together!

This is an unusual picture book, one that is immensely clever and completely noteworthy. Perkins doesn’t create a linear picture book here, rather the story of a boy and his dog is specifically told in different school subjects. This makes the book a very dynamic read and offers wry insights into the perspective of both dog and human as they spend their days together outdoors. The focus is on exploration and learning, which both of them do in different but also parallel ways. There is humor throughout, intelligently speaking to the relationship of human and pet but also to learning in a larger way about life.

The art by Perkins is stellar. Done in pen, ink and watercolor, the illustrations are humorous but also delicate and realistic. With different and interesting perspectives used, each page is different from the next but also part of a cohesive whole. A dynamic mix of different sized illustrations makes the book all the more fun to read.

Children will respond to the idea of learning in life and outdoors and will also love Lucky right from the beginning. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.

 

 

The Bell in the Bridge by Ted Kooser

The Bell in the Bridge by Ted Kooser

The Bell in the Bridge by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Barry Root (InfoSoup)

Stuck at his dull grandparents’ house in the summer, Charlie is left alone most of the time. He spends time down by the stream collecting tadpoles, using his weed-whacking stick, and dropping stones from the iron bridge that crosses the stream. One day, he discovers that when he hits the bridge with a stone, it rings like a bell and echoes down the valley. He does this again and again and sometimes there seems to be a faint third “bong” that sounds. His grandmother explains that that is just how echoes work, but Charlie is sure that there is another person on a similar iron bridge ringing it too in response. Before he is able to solve the mystery, Charlie returns home, but not before readers discover the answer.

Poet Ted Kooser has turned his poetic writing to another book for children with another grand result. Kooser invites readers into Charlie’s world, weaving slow days of summer carefully with his words. He shows the beauty of these slow days, the potential for discovery of things that would otherwise be unnoticed in the fast pace of video games and TV. These are old-fashioned summer days but ones that modern children can discover too if they are willing to head outside, collect their own jars of creatures and sticks, and hit things with stones.

Root’s illustrations are filled with golden summer sun. Even the cool shade near the stream is dappled with it. The bridge across the stream is structural and one can clearly understand how it rings like a bell. The countryside is filled with greens and yellow oranges, showing open fields bordered with stream and trees. It’s a world to explore.

A gorgeous picture book that shows the luminous nature of summer days spent outside with a good mystery to keep you occupied. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.