Posted in picture books

Barn at Night: The best things happen before the sun comes up

Barn at Night, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Jen Betton, (Sept. 2021, Feeding Minds Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781948898058

Ages 5-7

This rhyming tale is all about the bustling life on a farm as a child and her father get up before dawn to tend to the animals. By the time the girl and her father enter the barn, the animals are already awake and waiting for them, complaining about the cold air they’ve let in, getting underfoot and gently demanding to be fed. The family moves on to the rest of their day, but will come back to tend the animals once again later on: “When darkness falls / and animals call / we’ll go out and feed them again”. One night, the girl wakes up to spy her father heading to the barn to greet a new life as a foal makes his debut. It’s a quiet, lovely tribute to the hustle and bustle of farm life and caring for the animals within. Endpapers show the farm at night and in the pre-dawn hours as the sky gets lighter. The paintings make every spread warm, inviting the reader to feel the enveloping safety of the barn and the animals. Readers will love seeing the familiar animals – ask about colors, animal sounds, and baby names like foal, chicks, and kittens – and will learn more about what each animal eats and how they sleep. They’ll learn about some of the jobs on a farm, like the need to get up early and feed the animals. Michelle Houts’s engaging rhyme makes for great read-alouds and her comfort with nature writing just comes across so easily. A wonderful addition to your Farm and Animal Storytimes.

Feeding Minds Press publishes books that seek to educate readers about agriculture: where our food comes from, and who grows and cares for it. The Press is a project of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and their website offers more information about their mission and their books (including the Little Ag series, which I’ll be writing about soon!). The Barn at Night book page features free coloring pictures to download, too.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

See what’s growing at Amara’s Farm!

Amara’s Farm, by JaNay Brown-Wood/Illustrated by Samara Hardy, (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9781682631652

Ages 3-6

The first in a new series from Peachtree, Amara’s Farm introduces readers to a little girl and invites them to help her find pumpkins for her get-together. Amara is hosting a potluck for her friends, and needs pumpkins. First, we take a moment to consider what we know about pumpkins. Using that knowledge, we set off on a series of spreads, guiding readers through different crops that share some properties with pumpkins, but not all. Will Amara find her pumpkins in time? Using a question-and-answer format and descriptive explanations, this is an excellent introduction to properties, concepts, and farm food for kids that may recognize different foods they’ve seen on their own tables, at a farmer’s market, or in a grocery store, while introducing others to new foods like persimmons, figs, and eggplant, and showing kids how they grow: on trees, on vines, even underground. Cheery illustrations are colorful and have beautiful texture, giving readers a real feel for their food’s origins and appearance. Amara is an adorable young girl of color, with a friendly, expressive face and beautifully textured hair and clothing. Back matter includes a molasses pumpkin bread recipe to make with a grownup helper.

I really like this first entry into the new Where in the Garden? series! Being in an urban library system, this is a great way to communicate to my kids about food and how it grows, what they look like, where they can be found. You can explain concepts like shape, color, and textures as you go, and – since I’m fortunate enough to have several fruit markets and a weekend farmer’s market in my library’s community – invite the kids to visit these places with their grownups and describe what they see there. I can’t wait to see more from this series!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel, like the ladies around her. Plus, a giveaway!

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel, by Lindsay Ward, (April 2020, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-15420117947

Ages 4-8

In a nod to history, and a fitting way to send off Women’s History Month, Rosie: Stronger Than Steel salutes the American and English women who took care of business during World War II. Most of us know the iconic Rosie the Riveter, symbolic of the women who went to work in factories during the War, but not many of us in the States have heard of the British Women’s Land Army, tthat encouraged women to work in agriculture, keeping he Women’s Land Army was a British civilian organisation created during World War II so women could work in agriculture, so that Britain – an island nation that largely relied on imported food – could grow their own crops and be self-sufficient.

Rosie is an ode to the power of women working together. Created as a poem – part rhyme, part evocative verse – from the point of view of a tractor named Rosie, built in America by female factory workers – Rosies – and sent overseas to join the Women’s Land Army. She’s green, with a painted rose, and filled with a strong sense of purpose as she works with the women in Britain to plow fields, grow crops, and feed her new nation. She has a mantra that she clings to, repeated throughout the story: “I plow and I dig. / I dig and I plow. / No matter the job, / This is my vow. It spurs her on, as she plows in the shadow of fighter planes, through mud and muck. When the war ends, she mentors new farm machines, until the day she thinks it may all come to an end when she gets stuck in the mud… but wait! No one is going to abandon our Rosie! Like the Little Engine That Could, Rosie is truly stronger than steel, and roars back to life. A testament to women coming together to achieve great things, Rosie: Stronger Than Steel is an inspiring story about collaboration, cooperation, and determination. An author’s note tells the story of the American factory workers – our Rosie the Riveters – and the British Women’s Land Army. There’s an abbreviated  World War II timeline across the bottom of the author’s note spread.

Lindsay Ward’s colored pencil and cut paper artwork is colorful, bright, and filled with images of women (including Rosie!) working together, determined. Her art is so different here, from her colorful, cartoony artwork we see in her Dexter trilogy and Brobarians: here, we see realistic women and farmland, with a sweet-face, cartoony tractor; a blend that shows her versatility as an artist as well as an author. I really enjoyed Rosie: Stronger Than Steel and love this introduction to women’s history, for younger readers.

Rosie: Stronger Than Steel has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family  in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.

Twitter: @lindsaymward

 

Reviewers love Rosie!

★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Rosie: Stronger than Steel, courtesy of Two Lions (U.S. addresses). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour: Feast of Peas by Kashmira Sheth

I love a good folk tale, and Kashmira Sheth has certainly given me one with her newest book, Feast of Peas!

Feast of Peas, by Kashmira Sheth/Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler,
(March 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-135-5
Ages 5-8

Set in India, Feast of Peas is about Jiva, a farmer who works in his garden “until the sun turned as red as a bride’s sari”, tending to his crops; he’s most excited, though, for his peas. He can’t wait for them to grow, so he can gobble them up. He loves peas! But so does Jiva’s friend, Ruvji, who stops by to see how Jiva’s crops are faring. As Jiva sings his Feast of Peas song, Ruvji stands close by, imagining his own yummy feast of peas… and when Jiva discovers that his peas are going missing, Ruvji is right there, suggesting culprits from rabbits to ghosts. Jiva’s precautions don’t protect his poor peas, so Jiva must take matters into his own hands… and wait until he discovers who the thief is!

 

Feast of Peas is so much fun! Kashmira Sheth’s storytelling style is perfect for a storytime setting. She includes easily recognizable folktale elements, like everyday situations, a puzzling problem, and a solution that neatly concludes the story. Her writing style draws readers into the story, and there’s fun repetition in the interplay between Jiva and Ruvji and their daily routines: Jiva’s work in the garden; Ruvji’s daily visits; Jiva’s song, “Plump peas, sweet peas, / Lined-up-in-the-shell peas. / Peas to munch, peas to crunch, / I want a feast of peas for lunch”, and Ruvji’s response, “Peas are delicious. I would enjoy a feast of peas”. A ghost story is played for laughs, and friendship and sharing win the day at the end of the story. Jeffrey Ebbeler’s artwork brings Kashmira Sheth’s story to life with acrylic illustrations giving readers earth tones, characters with expressive faces and body language, and delicious plates of Indian food! Peapods and peas decorate the endpapers, stoking readers’ appetites.

Absolute fun. Add Feast of Peas to your folk and fairytale sections, and ask your kids what they think the morale of the story is. Publisher Peachtree has a free, downloadable teacher’s guide that includes talking points about art, social studies, math, music, movement, and more.

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Sweet Home Alaska: Little House, up North

Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg, (July 2019, Puffin), $8.99, ISBN: 9780147514202

Ages 9-13

Terpsichore Johnson’s family is just one of many families suffering through the American Great Depression in 1934. When the local mill in their Wisconsin town closed, the family relied on whatever they could grow in order to eat, and Terpsichore can make darn near anything out of a pumpkin. Her father is determined to take care of his family, and suggests taking President Franklin D. Roosevelt up on his New Deal offer: become an Alaskan pioneer in his Palmer Colony project! Terpsichore is at once unsure and excited: it’s a chance to be a pioneer, just like her hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder, but it’s so far from everyone and everything she knows. The family decides to give it a year, and they’re off. Life isn’t easy for that first group of colonists: there’s illness, and schedule and materials mismanagement leave a lot of folks living in tents when they should have had homes built, but slowly and surely, life in Alaska starts to grow on the Johnson family, except for Terpsichore’s mother. Can Terpsichore’s prize pumpkin win enough money at the Palmer Colony Fair so she can buy her mother a gift that will make her agree to stay?

I loved this book! Sweet Home Alaska is about the 1935 Matanuska Colony; one of FDR’s New Deal projects that would create jobs, investment in the country and infrastructure, and colonize part of U.S.-owned Alaska, which wasn’t a state just yet. The parallels between Sweet Home Alaska and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series are wonderful, and a good readalike for readers who enjoy the Wilder books, and Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House books. (There are no interactions between the mostly white Palmer colonists and indigenous people in Sweet Home Alaska; a point discussed in the author notes at the end of the book.) Terpsichore – pronounced Terp-sick-oh-ree, named for the muse of dancing – even refers to Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy, when growing her pumpkin to show at the Palmer Colony Fair.

The book takes a deeper look into a moment in history I haven’t yet seen captured in historical fiction. While it takes place during the Great Depression, this is new territory, and worth the read. Terpsichore is the eldest child, with twin younger sisters and an infant brother, and handles much of the housework to help her mother out. She’s smart, enterprising, and determined. She and the two friends she makes in Palmer – Gloria, named for actress Gloria Swanson, and Mendel, named for the scientist who studied genetics – work together to start up a colony library and find ways to raise money for books and supplies. She experiences frustration, but always bounces back, stronger than before. The writing just flows from page to page, with adventure, emotion, and excitement throughout. There are wonderful mini-plots throughout, including the telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt that got our President’s attention; a visit from Will Rogers; and a Palmer resident with interesting ties to Terpsichore’s family. I loved spending time with this group.

An author’s note and further reading are included, and really make this a solid choice for kids seeking out historical fiction. There are also some recipes, including one for jellied moose nose. You know you’re curious.

Sweet Home Alaska was originally published in 2016, but I somehow missed it. Glad my friend Barbara over at Blue Slip Media told me I needed to read it now! Check out the free, downloadable discussion and activity guide, and find out about author visits, Skype visits, and contact info (including how to get an autographed bookmark!) at the author’s website.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Block and Jam! Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars!

trish-trash_1Trish Trash #1: Rollergirl of Mars, by Jessica Abel (Nov. 2016, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781629916149

Recommended for ages 10+

About 200 years from now, Trish “Trash” Nupindju lives with her aunt and uncle on a Mars-based moisture farm. Mars is colonized, but settlers live and work under brutal conditions and live in abject poverty. Trish cuts school one day try out for the Novas, a hover derby team – think roller derby, but a little more off the ground – because she wants to become a star and leave this red rock already. She finds herself on the wrong side of hover diva Hanna Barbarian, but she lands a spot as team intern. Life’s starting to look up, until Trish discovers a weak and injured Martian, whom she takes in.

Rollergirl of Mars is the first in a new science fiction trilogy by Harvey Award-winning author Jessica Abel. It’s a promising beginning, but I’ve got a few questions; the biggest one being, does living on Mars age humans differently? Trish is supposed to be 7 1/2 years old, but looks and acts like a teenager. I hope this gets fleshed out in future issues. I love the idea of hover derby (I’ve mentioned being a frustrated derby girl when I’ve reviewed derby books here in the past), and the match in the first issue has energy that readers will enjoy. We’ve got a diva conflict setting up, and some family drama on the horizon, so there are quite a few elements set up here to move future narratives forward. I love the diversity reflected here, too. Give this to your Roller Girl readers who are ready for some more realistic, gritty art and storytelling, and talk this up with your teens. There’s a great Trish Trash section on Jessica Abel’s author page, too.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Casey’s Bright Red Christmas – Perfect for Blaze & The Monster Machines and Cars Fans!

caseyCasey’s Bright Red Christmas with Tillus & Friends, by Holly Dufek/Illustrated by Paul E. Nunn (Dec. 2015, Octane Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781937747619

Recommended for ages 4-8

Casey and the team is getting ready for Christmas! But Casey still has so much to do and she’s getting a cold – can the team work together to give Casey a hand and get the farm ready for Christmas?

This is the sweetest story about friendship and teamwork. Holly Dufek and Paul E. Munn write and illustrate the Casey & Friends series for Octane Press, a publisher of books on racing, adventure, architecture, and collectible farm tractors. The Casey & Friends series introduces kids to farming and farm equipment, pairing nonfiction with a fictional group of friendly characters to explain and educate.

In Casey’s Bright Red Christmas, we see the team come together to help a sick Casey – who shows kids how much work goes into maintaining a farm! – get ready for the holidays. The chores are there and need to be done before the fun of decorating and celebrating, after all! The artwork is appealing, with anthropomorphic farm machines that kids will take to easily – my 3 year-old loves Blaze and the Monster Machines and Pixar’s Cars/Planes movies, so the book appealed to him right away (and I simplified the text to make it a quicker read for his attention span). The kids (ages 2-5) at my Christmas storytime enjoyed talking about the farm and loved the machines (and the parents were happy to get a cookie recipe at the end of the book!), so I’d say the book is a hit all around.

The text is easily adaptable for a younger audience with a short attention span, and is a good step toward a longer story for kids in Kindergarten and first grade. Pair this with a good Christmas book, share the cookie recipe, and sing some Christmas carols! It’s a fun stocking stuffer, for anyone still looking for those last few gifts. And since car and truck books do gangbusters in pretty much any children’s collection, it’s a great one to add to your own library’s wish list.