Good Morning, Snowplow! by Deborah Bruss, illlustrated by Lou Rancher and Steve Johnson (9781338089493)
When the snow starts to fall, a snowplow driver and his dog head out into the night to clear the roads. They do safety checks and get the hopper filled with salt and sand. Then they are off into the dark to clear the snow from the roads. Giant drifts are formed as they plow past while branches grow heavy with snow. When a car goes by too fast and ends up in the ditch, the plow calls dispatch for a tow for them. At the railroad tracks, the plow driver also stops, stepping out of the cab of his truck into into the hush of the night. The train goes by, creating a cloud of white. The driver heads home just as others start to wake and falls asleep in bed as the sun rises.
Bruss captures the quiet beauty of a snowstorm as she tells about the night work of clearing the roads. She writes with a poetic touch, creating dramatic moments in the story like the train going past and the car skidding into the ditch, but also embracing the silent work of the plow and the hush of the storm.
The illustrations are wonderful, offering looks at the big truck that will appeal to youngsters who love heavy machinery but also beautifully capturing the storm. One double-spread in particular has just the right light as the truck goes through town. Anyone living in a northern state will recognize that light and the quiet moment before the plow comes through.
Ideal for winter reading, curl up with this one before being plowed out yourself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Scholastic.
The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle (9781408896884)
Fionn has never visited his grandfather on Arranmore Island. His mother left and never returned after his father died in a storm. So Fionn is surprised to find that his grandfather is seen as a very important man on the island. He is the Storm Keeper and it is his job to capture memories and weather in candles that are then released when lit. As Fionn learns of the magic of the island itself, he discovers that another boy from a different island family is planning to use up the single wish given to their entire generation. Now Fionn must race him to find the hidden sea cave and make a wish that could save his family. Fionn grows more and more connected to the island as he spends time and explores, but something dark is also reaching out to him, something that wants Fionn’s very soul.
Doyle weaves a complex and intricate tale in this book for middle-grade readers. The island setting of the book is truly a character in the tale since the island is aware and able to control certain things. The island is rough and rugged, a place filled with opportunities, magic and danger. Fionn is connected to the island in a deep way that is revealed throughout the book. Doyle’s writing is fresh and honest. She gives Fionn and the reader a chance to explore for themselves and discover the layers of magic on Arranmore as the story progresses. There is a lot going on in this book with a magical island, a historic mage battle, family problems, dementia, depression and more. But it written in a way that allows readers to steadily take on the information. The book is a complete world rather than a narrow peek inside.
Fionn is a strongly-written character as is his grandfather. Those two are the most robustly drawn characters in the novel. Fionn is a younger sibling, tormented by his older sister most of the time. He is excluded from being with the others his age and spends much of his time alone with his grandfather or out on the island. His tie to his dead father is a major theme, since the islanders know he looks just like him. Fionn’s grandfather is a man steeped in magic. His candles surround him filled with memories even as his own mind fails him. He exudes warmth and charm, working to make sure the next Storm Keeper will succeed against the darkness that is coming. Their relationship is bittersweet, one of lost opportunities with Fionn’s father and a sense of impending loss due to the grandfather’s worsening memory.
Unique and dynamic, this novel is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.
Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)
Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.
Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.
Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.
A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan (InfoSoup)
Released September 13, 2016.
Newbery Medal winning author Patricia MacLachlan returns with a gorgeous little book. Two siblings, brother and sister, are trapped in a snowstorm. They had been left with the car when their mother went for help, but were warned that if the car was entirely covered with snow, it might be a dangerous place to stay. Nearby lives Teddy, a dog raised by a poet, so a dog who understands words and can even speak. However, only two kinds of people understand him, poets and children. Teddy discovers the children and brings them back to the poet’s home, a home that he hasn’t entered since his beloved human companion died. Soon the children are making the house into a different kind of home, but no less filled with the beauty of words and the feelings of love.
MacLachlan has created a lovely short book that wraps readers in warmth. It is as if readers too have been rescued from the cold and the dark, welcomed into a place of firelight and sustenance. It is an enchanting book that brings back the feelings of being at home during a storm and knowing you are safe and secure. MacLachlan’s writing is assured and masterful. She is so succinct and deft in her storytelling that she manages to offer a full story in less than fifty pages and even make it feel leisurely and special.
Throughout the book, Teddy the dog explores what it is to be special to someone, loved by someone and then to lose that person. Through his memories readers see how Sylvan, the poet, died and how Teddy has managed to stay on the property. As he works through his grief with the children near him, there is a strong sense of the importance of poetry and words and expression.
A very moving and noteworthy addition to MacLachlan’s exceptional body of work, this book is exquisite. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss.
The Branch by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Released September 6, 2016.
During an ice storm, a little girl is awakened by a loud sound outside. It turns out to be her favorite branch falling from the tree in her yard. It was the branch she played on, dreamed about and that was a big part of her day. The little girl asks to keep the branch after finding out that it can’t be reattached to the tree and her mother agrees. Her neighbor is next door with his chain saw and the girl stands guard so that no one takes her branch. Her neighbor, Mr. Frank, sees her standing there and asks about her branch. He sees “potential” in it and offers to help her make something with it. It turns out to be just the right solution, one that helps the girl remember the fun she had and looks forward to future happiness too.
Messier conveys the little girl’s emotions very clearly. From the feel of the fallen branch to her attachment to it to the importance of creating something new with it. Each moment echoes with emotions, creating a book that is conducive to discussing feelings with young children listening to the story. The book is also anchored in sensations, the feel of the icy branch in her hands, the noise of the chain saw, the hard work of transforming the branch into something else.
The illustrations by Pratt are filled with deep colors that brighten the pages. The beauty and destruction of the ice storm are captured, each branch encased in ice. The change is seasons is also nicely shown, moving from ice and snow to green in the illustrations.
A book about resilience, connections to nature and its power, and the value of memories, this picture book is full of potential itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Kids Can Press and Netgalley.
The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi (InfoSoup)
A little boy heads home after school, excited about a trip to the beach the next day with his family. His teacher did warn that a storm was coming and as the evening goes by, the sky gets darker. His parents prepare for a storm and reassure him that even if they can’t go to the beach the next day, they will go another weekend. Soon rain starts to fall and then the wind picks up and blows hard. When it gets too loud, the boy jumps into his bed and pulls his covers over his head. Soon he is dreaming about being on a ship with big propellers that help to drive the storm away. Finally the storm moves off and his ship can sail higher into the sky. When the boy wakes up the next morning, he discovers a lovely day. Just right for a visit to the beach!
Miyakoshi’s picture book is filled with tension. Not only of the storm itself but of the waiting for the storm to arrive and then the concern about how it will impact their plans for the next day. It is a tension that children will understand, whether about weather and storms or about big plans being disrupted. It is also a picture book that speaks to the power of nature and the way that children can have plans with little control over them.
The illustrations in the book are black and white with small touches of color like the blue sky after the storm. The charcoal style has a lovely texture throughout. Light and dark play on the page with one storm page filled with rain showing the falling water as bright zings of light in the darkness. There is both a feeling of drama and also one of safety throughout, particularly during dinner and at bedtime.
This stormy picture book is one that children will relate to on a variety of levels. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Kids Can Press and Edelweiss.
When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy
Head outside on a windy day in this breezy picture book. When the wind chimes start to ring, a family excitedly gets ready to go outside into the fresh air. Together a little boy and his grandmother fly a kite that eventually breaks free and rides off on the wind. The wind blows the grass and flowers. It also sends the sailboats out on the water racing. The wind gets even stronger and a storm moves in with thunder and rain. They head back home into the bright warm lights of the house. There they are cozy and protected, unworried about the storm that continues outside. It is night when the storm clears and everyone is asleep.
Told in short rhyming lines of poetry, this picture book manages to be fresh and fun rather than stilted in any way. The rhymes and their rhythms offer a dynamic edge to the book, creating movement that echoes that of the wind in the words themselves. The attention is on both humans enjoying the breezy weather and also nature as the storm moves in. This is an invitation to head out into changing weather.
Christy’s illustrations are gorgeous. They have vivid colors and capture the movement of the wind. Just seeing the images evokes wind and breeze, as if fresh air is lifting off each page as you read. She also captures the joy of being out in weather, the fun of wild wind and the beauty of oncoming storms.
A beautiful look at weather, wind and rain that will have everyone looking for their kites on the next breezy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes
On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line. Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder. The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning. When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine. Sun sets and baths are given. The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.
Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page. White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth. In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end. Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.
Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator. Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured. She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm. Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud.
This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick
Zane lives in New Hampshire with his mother and is sent to visit his newly discovered great grandmother in New Orleans. Unfortunately, he is there when Katrina hits. Headed out of the city with his grandmother’s pastor in their church van, Zane is safe until his little dog, Bandit jumps out of the open window because some larger dogs in another vehicle are barking at him. Zane goes after him, walking for miles until he catches him. Realizing he’s closer to his grandmother’s house than the vehicle, he heads back there. Then the storm comes. Zane is in a house that is leaking, the flood waters start to rise, and he climbs with Bandit up into the attic. From there he is rescued by an older musician wearing a wild looking hat and a young girl. As chaos descends on the city, Zane finds that all of the rules change but that it is human kindness that makes all the difference.
Philbrick has crafted a very well-written book about Katrina. He melds the details of the storm and its aftermath in New Orleans into the narrative, allowing it to form the backbone of the story. At the same time, this is Zane’s specific story, one of luck and bravery. The flooded city becomes the foundation of the tale, those happy to take advantage of the situation appear and the support of police is nearly nonexistent.
Philbrick’s story is very readable, the storm offering a structure to the book that readers will feel approaching in an inevitable and inescapable way. The beginning of the book is rife with dread and fear, knowing what is going to happen. That fear never lets up even after the storm has passed. Zane is a strong and resourceful character, one who is forced to trust others and their generosity. Race plays an important role in the book, from Zane’s mixed race to his two African-American companions after the flood.
This is definitely a story of Katrina, but it is even more a survival story of a boy and his dog. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Blue Sky Press.