The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (9781534430686)
Ileana was a storyteller who collected stories, but stories were dangerous in Communist Romania. When her uncle disappears and their apartment was bugged, Ileana’s father destroyed her book of stories that she had been collecting for years in order to protect them all. Then her parents decide to send Ileana off to live with her maternal grandparents whom she has never met. The rural village is very different from the city that Ileana grew up in. After a period of anger, she gradually adjusts to life in there. But there is no escape from the brutality of the Romanian government. Ileana discovers her uncle, broken and ill, hiding nearby. When he is rescued by her grandparents, Ileana is given a valuable set of papers to protect. As the government tightens its hold on the country and on Ileana’s village, she finds herself at the center of her own story where she can choose to be a heroine or not.
Kramer’s middle-grade novel is nearly impossible to summarize because it is so layered and has such depth. The book focuses on the Communist period of Romania’s recent history and yet also has a timeless feel that pulls it back into a world of folklore and tales. The focus on storytelling is beautifully shown, illuminating not only Ileana’s mother’s story but the entire village’s history. There are stories that are dangerous, ones that connect and a single one that must not be told, but serves as the heartbeat of the entire community.
This book has a lot of moments that are almost tropes, like Ileana being sent to live with her grandparents in the mountains without knowing them at all. But in the hands of Kramer, these moments become opportunities to tell a story that is unique. Readers will be surprised again and again by the directions this novel takes and the stories it tells. It’s an entirely fresh and fascinating book.
Proof that stories are powerful, both to connect and to fight back. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni (9781338318548)
This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story. The book has five individual stories, each a stand-alone tale which also makes this a great pick for smaller and shorter reading sessions. The book begins with a box left at someone’s door full of items for stories. Those objects are then the basis of each tale. There is a scary house and dare to enter it. There are neglected toys that seek revenge. A scratchy throat proves to be something truly awful. A statue insists on being warm. Scratching at the window may not be a tree branch after all.
The easy text works really well here, the simplicity of the words building a sense of not quite being told the entire tale and details being held back from the reader. Brallier builds suspense nicely in each story and readers will notice a nod to classic scary story tropes in the tales that doesn’t impact the delicious scariness of them at all. The illustrations are used liberally throughout the book and also will appeal to older readers. Their dark shadows add to the shivery nature of the book. It’s also great to see a diverse cast of characters in the stories.
A great pick to use in reading classrooms and to offer parents looking for easy readers for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (9781624147654)
Liam’s father was a sailor who always brought back stories of his time a sea. Liam loved the way his father’s stories could transport him. But when his father didn’t return from a voyage, Liam lost the ability to connect with stories any longer. It wasn’t until an unusual man with an amazing multi-colored beard arrived on a ship that Liam heard stories that could compare with his father’s. The man asked for a volunteer to accompany him on his next journey, and out of a crowd of people, he selected Liam. The two traveled together with the man showing Liam how to listen and how to see things. After some time together, the man reached the end of his travels and offered Liam a gift, a gift of stories and storytelling.
Davison celebrates the power of stories and storytelling in this picture book. She explores how important stories are to create connection and then how dark life can be when that bridge of stories is gone. The traveler is an interesting character with his gift of stories but also his touch of magic, his multi-colored beard telling the tales along with him. Seen as strange by some but awe-inspiring for someone like Liam who uses stories as a language.
The illustrations use color very cleverly. Liam goes from a life of full color to one of grays, blacks and whites, his world tinged with grief and loss. Everyone around him to are in muted colors, except for the Traveler, who arrives with his bright beard of greens, reds and yellows that offer space for stories to appear. At the end of the book, readers will see the gift of stories pass to Liam with a transfer of the colors as well. It’s beautifully and touching.
A great story all about the power of stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Page Street Kids.
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.
King Alice by Matthew Cordell (9781250047496)
Home on a snow day with her family, Alice declares herself “King Alice” and demands that her father plays with her. They settle on making a book together, a story about King Alice and her royal knights. At first, the book is really short, just one chapter. But after her parents suggest that there may be more to the tale, Alice has more ideas. She occasionally takes a break to play with toys but is soon back again creating more chapters. After lunch, the idea is a Unicorn Party in the book but when King Alice gets too enthusiastic and hits her father with her unicorn toy she has to sit in time out. With apologies made, the book and the story continue with new ideas all the way through dinner, bathtime and in bed.
There is such honest on the pages of this picture book. From parents who are loving and also set limits and consequences to Alice’s attention span for a large project like this. It is delightful to have a creative process documented with new ideas taking time but also being immensely exciting. Alice’s parents are involved, but it is also her book done with her father’s support. It’s great when he is caught up in the project and Alice is ready to walk away.
The illustrations are loose and flowing. They show an active family willing to make messes with their daughter. Alice’s book is shown in crayon illustrations and neatly written words by her father.
A creative and imaginative picture book sure to be king of the shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.
Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead (9781626726550)
Vernon has returned for a second book following A Home for Bird, along with his friends Skunk and Porcupine. In three short stories, readers get to delight in even more time with these characters. The first story is told almost entirely in images since it’s about waiting. Vernon waits and waits until he suddenly realizes that he’s under way already! In the second story, the three of them head out to go fishing. Porcupine though worries that he is ruining the trip for everyone because he’s never been fishing before. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that none of them know what fishing trips actually are, but their version is a huge success for all of them anyway. In the last story, Vernon creates a special garden for himself filled with things he loves and that remind him of Bird. Porcupine and Skunk want to help Vernon feel better about missing Bird, but they struggle to find the right thing to bring him. Along the way they accidentally find exactly what he needs.
As always, Stead hits just the right notes with this book. The three characters are each unique and interesting. Vernon stays as the focal point of the stories but shares the limelight particularly with the worrying Porcupine this time. These books feel like instant classics, the characters will remind readers of Pooh and Eeyore. They are characters you want to spend more time with as they head out on their small adventures together. The illustrations are classic Stead where he uses the white space on the pages very effectively to create space and sometimes longing.
Another winner from Stead that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)
Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.
Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.
The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.
Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino (InfoSoup)
This picture book celebrates stories in all of their forms from the past through to the present. Beginning with oral storytelling around fires, the book then moves to cave paintings, clay tablets and hieroglyphics. Formats change to papyrus and paper, tapestries to printed books. Libraries evolve from private to public and books with their stories travel the world. They are censored sometimes and even burned, but they survive. They are inspiring, portable and immortal.
Yaccarino takes huge concepts and boils them down into a focused tale of the story. He uses simple language, inviting readers to think deeply about the power of story and how it transforms us all. While a lot of the book is about formats and changes as the technology changed, some of it is about the emotional tug of stories and how they move people.
The simple text is accompanied by vivid pictures alive with bright colors that range from tangerine to lemon to deep plums and chocolate browns. The illustrations are stylized and clever, using blocks of color that shout from the pages.
A cheerful picture book about the power and necessity of story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (InfoSoup)
This striking picture books tells the story of a young girl who loves to read, who is “a child of books.” She meets a boy who seems lonely, his father only reading the newspaper and ignoring the sea of words from fiction swirling around them. She leads the boy off on an adventure of stories. Down rabbit holes, up mountains, through dark tunnels, into fairy tale woods, past monsters in castles, into the clouds for bedtime stories, and much more. They return home, to a bright colored house on a gray street, and the boy leaves with a book under his arm trailing words behind him.
My description above doesn’t capture the beauty and wonder of this picture book. Jeffers’ poetry looks deeply into our relationship with fiction. Into the joy of discovering new adventures of heading down rabbit holes that other readers’ feet have merrily disappeared down before yours. He celebrates the shared language of story, the shared settings of tales, and the shared experiences that we have all had, separately but also together.
The illustrations are unique and very special. The merger of the painted characters with amazing typeface art is dynamic and original. It slows you down, naturally asking you to read the words that the mountains, clouds, and forest are made from. If you do, you discover old friends hiding there, beautiful words from classic children’s books. They invite you to read more, to rediscover those books of your childhood or introduce your favorites to your children. By the end of the book, I was slowly reading each word in the illustrations, lingering and sighing contentedly. My day slowed and enriched by memories.
Beautiful and luminous, this picture book is rich and unique. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.