The Night Marchers and Other Oceanian Tales , Edited by Kate Ashwin, Sloane Leong, Kel McDonald, Jonah Cabudol-Chalker/Contributions by Rob Cham, Yiling Changues, Paolo Chikiamco, Diigii Daguna, Brady Evans, Mark Gould, Gen H. , (Apr. 2021, Iron Circus Comics), $15, ISBN: 9781945820793
Originally published in the UK as two separate books: A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom, and A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, this collected volume of eight Indian folktales introduces readers to Prince Veera and his best friend, Suku, who stand in for Veera’s father, King Bheema, and preside over cases brought to the king’s court. Suku is a farmer’s son who studies with the prince as a scholarship student, and Prince Veera is a clear-headed tween who respects his family and seeks his friend’s opinion on matters. These “trickster tales” are inspired by traditional Indian folktales and have a wry sense of humor that kids will love. Together, the two will unmask a greedy man who leases a well to his neighbor – but charges him for the water; humble a merchant who attempts to charge people for enjoying the delicious smells coming from his sweets shop, and prove to the populace – including Veera’s own father, the king – that bad luck is not contagious, nor can a man’s bad luck rub off on anyone.
The book is illustrated throughout by award-winning author Uma Krishnaswamy, who creates beautiful, eye-catching artwork. Chitra Soundar’s stories are small morality plays, with strong messages to deliver, delivered with humor and warmth. I love this book and can’t wait to get it on my shelves. I’m looking forward to more Indian mythology, folk, and fairy tales in the coming year or two, especially with the success of mythology-based fantasy by Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent’s Secret) and Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time), Read a sample chapter courtesy of Candlewick Press here.
I fell in love with author Henry Herz’s book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, back in 2016. It was a wonderful way to introduce some magic to bedtime, and a nod to The Bard himself. Mr. Herz has two more books coming out this September; one is a fun fable about a selfish squid, and the other, another nod to magic, this time, courtesy of a little girl named Alice.
Once upon a time, a squid had a splendid silvery scarf knitted for him by his mother, but he was still cold. Rather than go home and bundle up, our little cephalopod decides to steal an octopus’ sweater and a fiddler crab’s mitten; when he tries to snatch an eel’s hat, though, he discovers that taking things without asking can only end one way: trouble! The eel grabbed one of the squid’s 10 arms, and the octopus and crab catch up to get hold of his other arm and get their clothes back! When all is said and done, the squid is still cold, and now he has two really long arms: and a sneaky fish sneaking up to steal his scarf! The straightforward story is a gentle way to reinforce that taking things that aren’t yours is wrong; a nice morality tale set in the friendly ocean. The artwork brings a dose of fun to the story, with wide-eyed marine life and exaggerated expressions (and an eel in a hunter’s cap is pretty fantastic). An author’s note provides a photo and a little bit of background on squid.
My little guy thoroughly enjoyed this story; he had a big-eyed laugh when the squid got his comeuppance, and pointed out all the animals we’d seen at the aquarium a couple of weeks before. It’s a nice add to your shelves, and a fun add to fables, stories about empathy, and books with marine life. And here are some squid coloring sheets, to enhance the storytime!
Alice in Wonderland fans, get ready: the subtitle here, “Before the rabbit hole”, lets you know what’s going on. Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Alice, who went to the dreariest school in all of England. While escaping her awful headmistress and cruel classmates, Alice happens upon a small, walled garden, and begins tending it, caring for a few of the inhabitants: a caterpillar and a lory bird; she even chases a smiling cat away from a rabbit. Her kindness is paid back at school, when her benefactors leave her tasty treats and take care of those bullies, telling Alice that they are friends “now and forever”. There are wonderful references to the classic tale throughout the story, and readers will fall in love with the magical realism of the garden. The artwork is colorful and calming, delightful for fairy tale fans, and the story itself is all about the power of paying it forward. This one is great storytime reading, and may nudge Mabel aside as my favorite Henry Herz book. Print out some Alice in Wonderland coloring sheets, have a mad tea party, and read this one to your littles.
In my continuing struggle to get on top of my review list, I present another roundup; this time, with picture books!
Priscilla is a very sweet rat who loves to collect things, but when she’s invited to friends’ birthday parties, she finds that she has a hard time even parting with the gifts she chooses for her friends! When Priscilla’s house finally crashes around her, she realizes that her friends are worth much more than being surrounded by stuff. Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association; this is a book designed to discuss clutter and hoarding tendencies in kids, and it does so in a mild, easy manner. This can easily be a kids’ story on sharing and giving, no red flags necessary. Adorable felted characters and found objects create a visually interesting story that you can also turn into a little game of I Spy with little ones: there are plenty of things to find! A note to parents and caregivers advises parents on what to do if children have trouble parting with possessions, the differences between hoarding and collecting, and ways to help kids organize their belongings. A nice add to developing empathy collections and for caregivers and educators who need books to address behaviors.
Letters to a Prisoner is getting rave reviews, with good reason. The wordless picture book, inspired by the letter-writing campaigns of human rights organization Amnesty International, is so impactful, so relevant, and so necessary. A man is arrested during a peaceful protest, injured by a soldier who also pops the man’s daughter’s balloon. The man is thrown in a solitary jail cell, where he befriends a mouse and a bird. When letters arrive, the guard takes joy in burning them in front of the man, but the joke’s on the guard: the smoke from the burning letters serves as a worldwide beacon. Groups of people all over send the man letters; they arrive, en masse, and turn into wings with which the prisoner soars above the helpless, infuriated guard. The watercolor over black ink sketches adds an ethereal feel to this beautiful story of hope and social justice. The book’s wordlessness allows for every reader to come together, transcending language, to take part in this inspirational story. An author’s note tells readers about Amnesty International’s inspiration. Display and booktalk with Luis Amavisca’s No Water, No Bread, and talk with little ones and their parents as you display the book during social justice and empathy themed storytimes. Letters to a Prisoner has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Quill and Quire.
One of my favorite picture books this year. Bat is adorable. And he loves cherries. DO NOT TAKE HIS CHERRIES. He is quite serious about this, so you can imagine his distress when his cherries start disappearing! The reader’s clued in, naturally – we see paws and ants sneaking cherries out of the book’s margins while Bat stares at us, demanding to know what’s going on. The animals leave him a pear, which Bat embraces – and the story is ready to begin again. There’s bold, black fonts to make for expressive storytime reading, and Bat and Friends are just too much fun to read and play along with. Absolutely delightful storytime reading; just make sure you read this one before you get it in front of your group: you will squeal with glee the first couple of times you read it. Print out bat masks for the kids to color in as part of your storytime craft.
A storm’s approaching, and two strangers – brothers – arrive in the forest. They stop at several animal family homes, offering a trade for shelter; they have tea, can anyone offer them some food? A place to ride out the storm? We see each family, safe and with full larders, turn them away. A young fox feels terrible about this, and runs out to give the brothers a lamp, which they use to find shelter. But as fate would have it, the storm is even more trouble than the families expected, and soon, they’re asking the brothers for shelter: which is cheerfully given. This kind, moving story about kindness and succor is perfect for illustrating the power of empathy. Qin Leng’s watercolor and ink illustrations are soft and gentle, a perfect match for Céline Claire’s quiet narration. Shelter offers the perfect opportunity to talk about putting kind thoughts into practice; whether it’s sharing with others or offering friendship to someone who needs it.
A slightly macabre twist on the traditional Little Red Hiding Hood tale, The Little Red Wolf is a story about a little wolf who, on the way to visit an ailing grandma, encounters an awful human girl. The message here is consistent with the original fable: there’s a strong stranger danger warning, but also a reminder that every side has a story, every villain has an origin. The art is beautiful and dark; an additional add for collections where readers may be ready for darker fantasy.
The middle child gets lots of love in this adorable picture book. Middle Bear is the second of three brothers; not small, but not big; not strong, but not weak; not a lot, not a little… “he was the middle one”. He has a hard time feeling special until the day his parents both fall ill and the three cubs have to get willow tree bark from the mountain top, to help them get well. When big brother is too big, and little brother is too little, it’s up to Middle Brother to save the day: he is, to quote that other story starring three bears, “just right”. The emphasis on bear’s “middleness” will drive home the point that he persevered and succeeded as is, through determination. Manon Gauthier cut paper collage, pencil, and mixed media illustrations add texture and a childlike sense of place in the story. There’s a good lesson about empathy to be learned here, too; the bear’s brothers and parents all support him and let him know that what he may see as being a challenge – being the middle one – is what makes him the perfect bear for the job. Perfect storytelling for middle children who may be feeling the frustration of being too big for some things, not big enough for others.
Leon’s baby brother, Marcel, has arrived! Leon’s excited, but a little concerned about where the baby’s going to go when he’s not in his crib. He certainly can’t go in Leon’s room. And there’s no room on Mama’s lap for him; there’s only room for Leon. And Daddy’s shoulders are just too high. After Leon thinks on the situation, he discovers the best possible place for his baby brother: in his arms. This is the such a sweet story about becoming an older sibling; it addresses the fears an older sibling may have when a new baby joins the family, and it allows the sibling to work through his fears and come to his own happy decision. At no point do Leon’s parents correct him or force the baby on him; they stand back and let him reason things out for himself. It’s an empowering story with a sweet sense of humor. The simple black pencil, crayon and oils illustration feels childlike and will easily appeal to readers. I’m looking forward to adding this one to my new baby bibliography.
Recommended for ages 10+
Originally published in 2013, Map of Days follows a clock-obsessed boy, who wonders where his grandfather goes when he disappears into a door on his grandfather clock. One night, the boy steps into the clock and discovers a fantastic world, where the face of Earth, the Sun, and the love story that joins the two. It’s a fable contained within a narrative, beautifully illustrated for readers of all ages. Children under the age of 10 will enjoy the colorful art, but may be lost by the story, which isn’t always linear and can be confusing.
The artwork is beautiful, and the fable of the Earth and the Sun is bittersweet. Art fans will want this book on their shelves for the sheer beauty within; fantasy fans will happily follow the boy on his journey.