The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora (9781524768287)
Born a slave in the mid-1800’s, Mary was not allowed to learn to read. Even when emancipation came, she was unable to learn to read because she and all of her time was used in making very little money. When a group of evangelists gave her a Bible, she promised herself that one day she would be able to read it. All three of her sons’ births were recorded in that Bible by other people who could read and write. Mary could only leave her mark by the words. After a lifetime of hard work, Mary became too old to sharecrop any longer and took on other jobs like cleaning and babysitting. At well past ninety years old, Mary’s sons read to her but they each passed away, her oldest son dying at age ninety-four. Mary lived on and learned of reading classes taught in her building. She spent the next year learning to read, and finally could read at age 116. She was awarded the title of the nation’s oldest student by the US Department of Education and went on to receive many gifts, some from Presidents of the United States.
Hubbard cleverly fills in the details of Mary Walker’s early life since very little is known about it. It is a fact that she had her Bible for over 100 years before she could actually read it. It is also a fact that she learned to read that quickly. Chattanooga, Tennessee gave her the key to the city twice in the 1960’s and has a historical marker in her name. Her life stands for the ability to learn at any age, the resilience of surviving slavery, and the power of the written word to bring opportunity into your life. Beautifully, the book doesn’t need to lecture on any of those values, Mary’s life simply speaks on its own.
Mora’s art is done in mixed media of acrylic paint, marker, pencil, paper and book clippings. She uses a heavily textured and painted background in some images that sweeps the sky across the pages. In others, patterns and words fill the space offering glimpses of her future long before she could actually read.
This picture book based on a true story is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Schwartz & Wade.
This Book of Mine by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small (9780374305468)
A lovely quiet book about the power finding that book that is just for you. Told in simple words, this picture book explores the joys of reading at all ages. From being so young that you chew on books while you read to having that perfect book of music that you play all your life. From needing a great bedtime after-lights-out read to being inspired to make your own illustrations for a book you love. There is the pleasure of burying your nose in a book and breathing in that smell and the joy of becoming a character from your favorite book. There are books that teach and book that are just for pleasure.
All bibliophiles will adore this book written by a gifted husband-wife team who have brought us award-winning books in the past. This one is such a warm tribute to the immense pleasure of books and reading. It escapes being overly sweet nicely by having a wry sense of humor in its images. Small’s illustrations are done in a dynamic purple with pops of color from the covers of the books. He fills his illustrations with diverse people and makes sure to capture the steps and lions of the New York Public Library.
A wonderful read all about books! Appropriate for ages 3-5, and any age of book lover.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Albert’s Quiet Quest by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917626)
In this second book in the Mile End Kids series, Albert is looking for a quiet place to read. His house is way too noisy, so he heads to the alley behind his house. There he notices a painting of the sea at sunset and imagines he is reading on a quiet beach. But the alley starts to get busier as he sits there. Some children are working on potting a plant. Others begin a badminton game. Another girl asks Albert to watch her doll while she gets her cat. Someone else plays music and kids start to dance. It gets too be way too much for Albert, who slams his book shut and yells at the kids to be quiet. The others sneak away and quietly bring out their own books, finally shushing Albert when he tries to apologize for his outburst.
Told only in speech bubbles in the illustrations, this story is about wanting to find a bit of solitude and quiet. The building of the noise around Albert is done well, layering on top of one another. The ending though is a pleasure and a surprise as the other children get books and read too, with the picture book ending with laughter together.
Arsenault’s illustrations are wonderfully ethereal and unique. Done in a limited color palette, they have a quiet nature to them. She plays nicely with Albert’s imagination taking up double-page spreads and showing all of the children on the beach together. The cacophony takes over the pages, a brilliant show of noise and activity on the page.
Just right for quiet and loud kids alike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780062307811)
What a treat to have a picture book from a Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree! This is a picture book about how to read a book told through poetry and imagery. The book begins with finding the right place to read, like under a tree or on a stoop. The book should be peeled open like a bright orange clementine. The scent will be of morning air and butterfly kisses. Read it page by page, plump orange section by section. Inside you will find new friends, places to wander, drops of magic created by the words. No need to rush, just let it create new dreams and hopes that you may never reach.
Alexander doesn’t shy away from writing a real poem for young readers. It’s one that will stretch them, using a lot more imagery than they may be used to. He plays with colors, turning moons purple and zinging orange throughout. He also speaks to what books can do to us and for us in our lives without getting narrative or preachy about it. Instead his own book embodies this, taking us on a new journey of exploration.
Sweet’s illustrations are incredible. She works Alexander’s words into her art, forming them out of zinging bright neon colors, or quiet steady blues. She creates smaller pages at times, pages that are special and make you slow down and really feel the words and the illustrations.
An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly (9780823442430)
This picture book features three nested books, each smaller than the last. Thomas and his parents are on vacation at the beach in the first and largest book. His parents decide to take a nap and Thomas is bored, so he heads off and explores the beach. When he can’t find his parents, he stops and sits down, noticing a small book abandoned in the sand. He opens it and discovers the story of Thomas who is on vacation with his parents in the snowy mountains. His parents take a nap; Thomas wanders off. Thomas can’t find them and notices a book nearby. When he opens it, he discovers the story of Thomas and his family visiting outer space. Each book ends with Thomas finding his family right near him and as the smaller books close, the reader is once again back in the beach story and the family heads home.
Originally published in France, this book is very unique and exploring it for the first time is a remarkable experience. The nesting of the books physically represents the way that the stories nest together, rather like a Russian nesting doll where the smaller ones are on the inside. Still, in these books the stories get wider ranging as the books shrink down. The text is simple and accessible, feeling almost like a vintage tale until the nesting begins.
The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them. Each book has a cover that represents what is inside it, much like the main cover does with the boy in snow gear reading on a beach under a ringed planet.
Clever and funny, this is a rewarding book to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.
Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah Winifred Searle (9781541542723)
After moving to a new city with her parents, Harriet is stuck sitting around their new apartment alone while her parents start new jobs. She is missing camp back in Indiana and writes her camp friends postcards about sightseeing in Chicago, even though she hasn’t gone anywhere. She starts to pretend that the mailman is sinister, that the third floor of the house is haunted and that the kind owner of the house, Pearl, is a murderer. Pearl though continues to try to connect with Harriet during her long summer, using books and stories as a way to relate to one another. As the book steadily reveals, Pearl’s son had polio while Harriet herself has MS. This book beautifully portrays a teen’s long summer and dealing with a chronic illness.
Set in the 1990s, this graphic novel depicts a Latinx family as they move closer to Harriet’s doctors in Chicago. The family is warm and lovely, connected to Harriet but not hovering or overly worried about her. The graphic novel uses warm colors, sultry breezes and just enough mystery about what the truth of the house could be to keep the pages turning. The focus on books and reading is conveyed through the eyes of a teen who doesn’t really enjoy reading her assigned books. Filled with diversity, there are lots of people of color as well as people experiencing disabilities in this graphic novel.
Harriet herself is a rather prickly character, so I loved when she faked reading The Secret Garden, saying that she didn’t really like the main character that much. Readers will develop a sense of connection with Harriet as her vivid imagination comes to life, even though she may have misled the readers as well as herself at times. There are few graphic novels that have characters with invisible disabilities who sometimes need mobility aids and other times don’t. This is particularly effective in a graphic novel and portrayed with grace and gentleness.
A quiet graphic novel for tweens and teens that is just right with some lemonade and pizza. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Graphic Universe.
Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Brianne Farley (9781524773687)
Katie loved to build with blocks, from the noises that they made to the way they wobbled and then fell. Most of all, Katie loved building something new. Owen loved reading books, from the smell of the paper to the rustle of turned pages. Most of all, Owen loved reading something new. The two argued about which was best and then the school librarian stepped in. She gave Katie a stack of books to read and Owen a stack of books to shelve. Katie couldn’t settle in and read at all. So she started to build with the books until after a very large topple of a tower, a book on castle engineering caught her eye. Owen meanwhile was reading the books he was supposed to shelve. But then he noticed that books could balance on one another and soon he was building with them. The two admitted to each other that the other had been right, but then they come together and put building and stories into one big idea.
Lloyd writes the stories of each child in parallel with one another. The rhythms and patterns of each of their experiences match one another, creating a great structure for the book. The intervention of the librarian amusingly does not go as she plans, with the children taking their own approach to everything. Beautifully, it isn’t until Katie discovers just the right book for her that the world of reading opens up. Meanwhile, Owen is having a similar experience with building.
The illustrations by Farley add so much to the story. He manages to create amazing structures out of blocks and books, including elephants and giraffes that will have readers looking closely at them and wondering if they could actually be built. The final pages with the two children working together is also incredible. I also love the librarian’s response to what she has inadvertently created.
Funny and accepting, this book shows the power of reading and how it can build into something brand new. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.
Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9780763688424)
This is the sequel to the Caldecott Honor winner that returns us to the silliness of the first. The little red chicken has homework to do. At school, he learned all about the “elephant of surprise” and how it appears in every story. Papa tries to correct his little chicken, but as they share stories the element of surprise is at play. Who knew that even Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid have a shocking surprise for Papa too? Spend some more time with these two chickens in a book that celebrates surprises and shared stories.
Stein’s second story about this little chicken family has the same warmth as the first. There is a wonderful coziness about Papa and the little chicken and the home they share. At the same time, it has a dazzling sense of humor that children will adore with truly laugh-out-loud moments of surprise and elephants.
The art continues the feel of the first book in the series with a home filled with small touches and rich colors. The stories the two share are drawn in ink and have an old-fashioned feel to them. But then the blue elephant of surprise will break through and bring color into those books.
Full of surprises and joy, this picture book is a worthy follow up to the first. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (9780399544682)
Amal loves going to school in her small Pakistani village. She plans on becoming a teacher herself one day. But after her mother gives birth to a fifth daughter, her mother slumps into postpartum depression. Amal, as the eldest daughter, has to stop attending school to take care of the household. Thanks to her younger sister, Amal manages to keep on learning. But then Amal talks back to the son of the corrupt politician and landlord who runs their village. Amal is taken from her family and forced to work in his household as a servant to work off the debt. As Amal comes to terms with this abrupt change in her life, she has to figure out how to navigate being a servant in a grand house filled with secrets. Now Amal has to discover how connections with others could be the key to unlocking her future once again.
Saeed brings the setting of a small Pakistani village to vivid life in this novel for young people. From the paths to get to her home to the crowded schoolroom to the bustling village market, all demonstrate a warmth and strong community. That is beautifully contrasted with the setting of the grand home where Amal works in indentured servitude. It is a house that is chilly with deceit and secrecy.
Amal is a great heroine, dedicated to reading and learning as much as she can. She is also inventive and formulates solutions to the problems she encounters. At the same time, she also needs to learn to trust others, even those who may have betrayed her before.
A very readable book that invites readers into rural Pakistan and the dangers of corruption and debt. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.