Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Pigeon & Cat embraces kindness and joy

Pigeon & Cat, by Edward Hemingway, (June 2022, Christy Ottaviano Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780316311250

Ages 4-8

Cat lives all by himself in an abandoned city, and a cardboard box with his few possessions. He fiercely guards his little area from other neighborhood strays, but things change in Cat’s life when he discovers a little egg, intact, from a fallen nest. The unbroken egg is too pretty to eat; as Cat watches over it, the egg hatches and a sweet little Pigeon emerges. With Pigeon, Cat discovers something bigger than himself; he’s a parent now, and Cat’s world grows brighter. He nurtures Pigeon, who starts exploring her world, much to Cat’s concern: after all, Cat has only known the city to be large, lonely, and cruel. But Pigeon loves discovering her world and always returns home with a gift for Cat: until the one day that she doesn’t. Bereft, Cat looks for Pigeon, using chalk she gave him to create messages all over the city, hoping to lead her home. It’s an act that makes the City warmer, looking more like the comforting alley home that Cat has created for Pigeon, and gives Cat the ability to open his heart and home up. He befriends the other strays that he used to keep away, sharing food and friendship with them, and when Pigeon does return, Cat throws a party that the whole city can enjoy. An achingly gorgeous story of love, kindness, and the power of community through art, Pigeon & Cat will make you weep and cheer before you close the book. A storytime staple. Edward Hemingway’s mixed media illustrations create expressive animal characters that move readers; he uses color to show how Cat’s heart opens as Pigeon brings joy and companionship to his life, going from a brown-based palette to joyful, vibrant pages filled with color and happiness. Word balloons throughout the story add dialogue to the narration. Pigeon speaks in emoji-like rebuses, perfect for emerging readers.

Publisher Christy Ottaviano Books and author Edward Hemingway included a box of chalk in my review package, encouraging me to use the chalk, like Cat, to leave messages around my neighborhood; I’ll be sure to hand some out at my next storytime and encourage my families to do just that. Visit Pigeon and Cat‘s book detail page to download a free activity kit and book discussion guide.

Pigeon & Cat has a starred book review from School Library Journal.

Check out this Vimeo from Edward Hemingway on the making of Pigeon & Cat!

Edward Hemingway Presents PIGEON & CAT from LB School on Vimeo.

 

“A satisfying story exploring heart and home.”  —The Horn Book

“A sweet tale celebrating the joys of both personal and communal togetherness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A satisfying story exploring heart and home.”  —The Horn Book

Edward Hemingway is the acclaimed creator of many popular books: Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story, Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus, and Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. His writing and artwork have been published in The New York Times and GQ Magazine. The youngest grandson of Ernest Hemingway, he lives in Bozeman, Montana. He invites you to visit him at EdwardHemingway.com.

Twitter: @EdwardHemingway

Instagram: @edwardhemingway

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Spotlight on Women’s History: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place

Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women, by Christine McDonnell/Illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov, (March 2022, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211290

Ages 7-10

Inspired by her grandmother, who fed hungry men from her door during the Great Depression, Kip Tiernan went on to work with and feed the homeless as an adult. She noticed women dressing as men to get on the food lines, and began noticing more and more homeless women on the street; when she worked to bring public notice and aid, however, she was initially told that homelessness was not a “women’s problem”. Determined to make a safe place for women, she pushed until the city of Boston rented her an empty supermarket for $1 a year: Rosen’s Market because Rosie’s Place, opening in 1974; they served hot meals and provided free clothes, beds, and a safe place for women to come together. Sanctuary is Kip Tiernan’s story, told in straighforward prose and accompanied by evocative watercolor and digital illustration set against a white page, giving readers the feel of peeking into moments from Kip Tiernan’s life. The focus is on community, with multicultural women coming together to talk and support one another; there are embraces, hand-holding, and active listening, all there to emphasize the importance of connection and compassion. Display and booktalk with Dangerous Jane, the picture book biography of Jane Addams, founder of Chicago’s Hull House.

Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women, has starred reviews from The Horn Book and Book PageVisit the Rosie’s Place webpage to learn more about the sanctuary. The Harvard Radcliffe Institute houses Kip Tiernan’s papers.

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

The Great TBR Read-Down: Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox

Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox, (Aug. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534485082

Ages 8-12

Twelve year-old Lulu and her younger sister, third grader Serena, live in their car with their father. It’s not so bad; the Suburban has a big back seat, the showers in the RV park aren’t too far away, and the food pantry is near enough to get their food to keep in the car. It’ll be okay. Daddy tells the girls it will get better, and they hope it will, until the morning when the girls wake up and their father is gone. Lulu, afraid and distrustful of adults, keeps the girls’ father’s disappearance a secret – he’s done this before, right after their mother died – and tries to keep their RV park bill paid, get food from the pantry, and navigate both her and Serena’s school schedules, hoping upon hope that no one will discover their secret and separate the sisters. The weather in Montana is getting cold – much colder than their home in Texas – and the stress of keeping up appearances and being hungry and cold is starting to wear on Lulu. Told in the first person from Lulu’s point of view, and moving between past and present, Carry Me Home has characters that instantly feel real, with heartbreaking moments and the incredible strength exhibited by each character. It’s a story of friendship and finding home as much as it is a story of grief, loss, and poverty. A reminder that we never know what any given person is dealing with in a given moment, Carry Me Home is a book for readers who love realistic fiction. A side subplot links to Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and author Janet Fox’s author webpage includes downloadable instructions on folding paper cranes, a curriculum guide, and other resources.

Display and booktalk with readalikes like Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw and Melissa Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds.

Posted in picture books

Dear Librarian: A moving memoir

Dear Librarian, by Lydia M. Sigwarth/Illustrated by Romina Galotta, (June 2021, Farrar, Straus, Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374313906

Ages 4-8

Librarian Lydia M. Sigwarth’s picture book memoir was inspired by Ira Glass’s public radio show, This American Life. At the age of 5, Lydia’s family moved from Colorado to Iowa. WIthout a home of their own, Lydia, her six siblings, and parents stayed at relatives’ homes, but had no place of their own – until Lydia’s mother took her to the library, where she found a Library Home in the stories, the programs, and in the librarian, who always had time for a hug, to read a book with Lydia, and make her feel safe. Inspired to become a librarian thanks to “her” librarian, Lydia’s experiences illustrate both the library as emotional home for those who may not have anywhere to go; the emotional work of the librarian, and the love so many of us have for what we do. Romina Galotta’s illustrations capture the magic hidden in the ordinary; we see young Lydia walk into the library for the first time, flowers blooming out of shelves and sprouting up from book pages, just waiting for her. The warm atmosphere of the children’s room will bring a smile to any library lover’s face; I ached, missing my library even more, seeing the puppet show theatre and toy bins lining the floor of Lydia’s childhood library. Most of all, I loved the panel where Lydia’s librarian leans forward as Lydia approaches the desk; the two share a smile, connected, as Lydia’s flowers, bloom up from the librarian’s desk, letting readers know that this is part of her magical, safe space. She wanders through the stacks, accompanied by a whale; she and her librarian fight dragons together; she is where she needs to be. Now a librarian, Lydia connects with the children in her room, making paper dolls, sharing books and hugs, and connecting at that desk, robots and flowers present: she is someone else’s safe place now. An afterword from Lydia Sigwarth talks about her experiences in the library and reconnecting with her librarian Deb Stephenson, thanks to This American Life.

I was lucky enough to attend a librarian chat with Lydia Sigworth and her publisher, and it was one of the best experiences! Lydia Sigwarth is amazing, folx; I just wanted to talk books with her forever. She’s upbeat, inspirational, and such a positive force. I’m thrilled that she had a chance to share her story with us. Dear Librarian is a book every library should have handy – and that every librarian should read, because what we do makes an impact (and we need to remember that!).

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Independence and Danger: Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie Loves Jack, by Mel Darbon, (March 2021, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-289-5

Ages 13+

Set in the United Kingdom, we meet Rosie, a 16-year-old girl with Down syndrome who loves her boyfriend, Jack. Jack’s temper gets him into trouble and gets him sent away to a school in Brighton; Rosie’s father hopes this marks the end of Rosie’s and Jack’s relationship, but Rosie is determined to see Jack, and she’s determined to keep her independence. She discovers that Jack’s been writing postcards to her because he smashed his phone in a rage, but her father’s been holding them from her. Angry and set on finding Jack, Rosie runs away, Jack’s postcards and an address of his school guiding her toward their reunion. But the world is dangerous for a young teen girl, and Rosie discovers that not only can people be cruel to someone different, they can be predatory. At times uncomfortable, always consuming, Rosie Loves Jack is an engrossing story that gives readers a strong, smart heroine in Rosie. Readers will identify with Rosie’s struggles with well-meaning, but fearful parents, who may take what they see as extreme measures in the interest of protecting their daughter. They’ll understand the all-consuming love Rosie and Jack have for one another that sends Rosie out into the world, unattended, on a search for him, and the love postcards he sends her give her strength and guide her through some awful scenarios. They’ll see how dehumanizing people can be when encountering someone with special needs. A strong book to consider for a reading group. Rosie emerges as the most realized character, with supporting characters not as fleshed out, but keep her journey moving forward. Publisher Peacthree has a discussion guide on Rosie’s book detail page, as well as an author Q&A, where author Mel Darbon talks about her inspirations for both Rosie and Jack.

Posted in picture books

Sensitive Storytelling: A Place to Stay

A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story, by Erin Gunti/Illustrated by Estelí Meza, (Aug. 2019, Barefoot Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781782858249

Ages 5-9

A young girl and her mother seek housing at a shelter. The girl is uncomfortable with her surroundings: this isn’t her home, her bed, her kitchen, but her mother tries to smooth over the situation using positive visualization and imagination. No, it’s not her home; it’s a grand palace! The beds become rocket ships that shoot into space, and the dining room becomes a banquet hall, where people from all over come to break bread together. In between fantasy trips of the mind, the girl’s mother tries to put her daughter’s mind at ease, telling her that they are lucky to have a place to stay, encouraging her to greet others she meets at the shelter. Mother and daughter befriend another mother and her children at a nearby table; the two girls discover they are reading the same book at school. The protagonists are white, but there is a multicultural group of residents at the shelter, and the family she and her mother meet are brown-skinned.

A Place to Stay is sensitive to a child’s concerns over staying in a shelter, using the main character to communicate those fears, and her mother, to assuage them. A Place to Stay also explains what a shelter is, what purpose one serves to the communities, for those families that may have a pre-existing notion of the “kinds of people” that stay in shelters. Back matter includes notes on shelters and homelessness, including how shelters help and why people stay in shelters. A Place to Stay is an important addition to your libraries.

Author Erin Gunti wrote A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story after working as a child abuse and neglect investigator, to open a dialogue between adults and children about childhood homelessness. Her experiences come through with subtle nuances throughout the book: the use of creative visualization to ease anxiety and fear; having moments like the “treasure room” for kids in the shelter, where they can play and be children not defined by their situation; meeting other families and bonding over common ground like a book from school. Artist Estelí Meza uses soothing, soft colors to bring her story to life.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Miss Pinkeltink’s Purse holds a lot of love!

Miss Pinkeltink’s Purse, by Patty Brozo/Illustrated by Ana Ochoa, (Dec. 2018, Tilbury House), $17.95, ISBN: 9780884486268

Ages 4-7

Miss Pinkeltink has a ginormous purse that knocks people down and causes general mayhem, but she’s always got something to give: some tape to repair a bike wheel, a comb, or a rake; anything to help someone out. When Miss Pinkeltink’s purse is empty, she’s filled with the wonderful feelings of sharing. Miss Pinkeltink is homeless, and beds down on a park bench, or on the grass at night, her pink cape as a blanket and her purse for a pillow; Zoey, one of the kids Miss Pinkeltink’s generosity touched, spies her outside her window one night and determined to do something. She gathers the town together to give Miss Pinkeltink new things for her purse, one by one, leading up to a lovely final gift for her purse: a home.

This is an earnest, sweet introduction to the concept of homelessness and taking action for younger readers. The rhyming text introduces ideas in a simple, softened light; the bright daytime colors and expressive characters convey a sweet, if slightly dizzy, older woman who will give her last possession away – even if it it a bone, to a cat – with patchworked, layered clothing, who looks like she could be someone’s grandmother. Zoey, a brown-skinned girl, gets her town behind the effort to help Miss Pinkeltink out; the town is a multicultural mix of families and individuals. It’s a simple, warm-hearted story about how a group of people can come together to take care of someone less fortunate, and a good way to start a discussion about homelessness, empathy, and taking positive action. The back matter includes links to organizations, created by young people, to raise money to help and house the homeless. There are also tips for positive action, from fundraising to volunteering.

Miss Pinkeltink’s Purse is a strong addition to empathy collections and would be a good readalike for fans of Maribeth Boelts’ books and Lois Brandt’s Maddi’s Fridge.

Posted in Fiction, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Just Under the Clouds shows us the working poor

Just Under the Clouds, by Melissa Sarno, (June 2018, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524720087

Ages 10-14

Middle schooler Cora, her Mexican-American mom, and younger sister, Adare, are homeless. After her father died, she and her family have lived in a series of temporary homes and shelters in Brooklyn, New York, while her mother tries to make ends meet at an hourly retail job, giving up her art to keep her family going. Adare sustained brain damage at birth, so Cora must look after her when their mother isn’t around. When they get back to their room at the shelter and discover it’s been broken into, the family heads to Cora’s mom’s childhood friend, Willa, a successful lawyer with an apartment of her own, hoping to stay until a better, safer, placement comes through. Cora loves life in Willa’s stable home, but the girls’ mother is frustrated by what she sees as Willa’s meddling. Meanwhile, at school, Cora struggles with math and bullies, and meets a friend named Sabina, who lives on a houseboat and was homeschooled until this school year. Cora has both parents’ passions within her; she keeps her father’s tree diary with her and searches for a special tree that her father wrote about, paired with her mother’s artistic talent – with an arborial bent. She has the stress of caring for Adare, the stress of being homeless, and being bullied.

Just Under the Clouds is narrated in Cora’s voice; author Melissa Sarno creates a strong, moving narrative where we meet a family that often falls through the cracks in our society: the working poor. Cora’s mother, Liliana, is working at a job that doesn’t cover the cost of living for a family of three, let alone in metro New York, and her daughters are in school, clean, and fed, if not full. It’s a tale of poverty, grief, empathy, and hope. The book addresses childhood stress, which comes with long-lasting fallout, and caring for a special needs child, and how poverty affects those children receiving necessary services to help them. It’s a sensitive, painful look in our own backyards and courtyards, our own classrooms and workplaces, and deserves a space on bookshelves and in readers’ hands. Pair this with 1958’s The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carson, and ask readers how things have changed – and how they’ve stayed the same – over 60 years. Start a booktalk by asking your readers, “How would you feel if you lived in a place that wasn’t safe to go to alone?”

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

An imaginary friend will always have your back in Crenshaw

crenshawCrenshaw, by Katherine Applegate (Sept. 2015, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250043238

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery winner Katherine Applegate is back, following up the award-winning The One and Only Ivan with Crenshaw, the tale of an imaginary friend who knows when his boy needs him.

Jackson’s family is having a rough time of it. His dad is chronically ill, and his mom is having a hard time making ends meet. They’re hungry and they’ve sold their furniture and are looking at the possibility of living in their minivan. Again.

And just like that, Crenshaw appears. Jackson’s childhood imaginary friend is a huge cat who just shows up when he’s needed. And Jackson needs something to believe in; something to cling to. Will Crenshaw be enough?

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with The One and Only Ivan, and here, she continues her talent for drawing readers in with an emotional tale of friendship and resilience. Applegate addresses a social issue we don’t read much about, but exists: homeless families, transient families, and the effect this has on the children. She also shows us that all friends matter – even the ones we create to get us through the rough times.

Crenshaw will be out in September. Get it on your classroom and library shelves. This would be a great book to recommend and read for a social issues lesson and discussion. My sons’ elementary school takes part in the annual Penny Harvest program, where students collect pennies (or greater denominations, but every penny helps), and then decides on organizations to donate the total to. Wrapping this book reading around a Penny Harvest program or a canned food drive could lead to a meaningful discussion about helping others and bringing attention to families in need.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Yearling, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10-14When You Reach Me is a science-fiction novel set in a realistic fiction setting. It received the Newbery Award in 2010.

Miranda and Sal are best friends of the same age who live in the same building and both have single mothers. They spend all off their time together until the day when Sal is inexplicably punched in the stomach by a boy on the street. From then on, he shuts Miranda out of his life, leaving her hurt and confused. At about the same time, Miranda begins receiving strange notes from someone saying they are coming to save her friend’s life and his or her own, but that Miranda must write a detailed letter as the author will not be himself when he reaches her. She tries to figure out whether the notes or real or a joke as she navigates her situation with Sal, amkes new friends, and preps her mother to be a contestant on a game show, The $20,000 Pyramid. The notes continue to arrive, each with future predictions that come true, until the day Miranda witnesses an awful accident and brings the truth home: the notes are no joke.

The book is wonderfully addictive, with interesting characters and a realistic, New York in the 1970s setting. Ms. Stead layers plot upon plot, drawing the reader in and dropping little clues throughout the story to guide the reader along while never giving away the surprise until the climax of the story. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time figures heavily into the story both as Miranda’s favorite book and a device to further the plot and is woven beautifully into the fabric of the story. Older readers will be better able to sit down and spend some time with this complex book and have great discussions afterwards.

In addition to winning the Newbery, When You Reach Me has received numerous awards and honors including designation as a New York Times Notable Book and an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book; it has also won School Library Journals’ Best Book of the Year (2009) and Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Book of the Year (2009).

The author’s website provides information and reviews on her books, a link to her blog, and contact information for libraries and schools that wish to host her.