Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Roundup: Bears, Babies, Bats, and more!

In my continuing struggle to get on top of my review list, I present another roundup; this time, with picture books!

Priscilla Pack Rat: Making Room for Friendship, by Claudine Crangle,
(March 2017, Magination Press), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1433823350
Recommended for readers 4-8

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, by Jacques Goldstyn
(Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517
Recommended for readers 4+

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.

 

I Am Bat, by Morag Hood,
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492660323
Recommended for readers 3-7

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.

Shelter, by Céline Claire,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771389273
Recommended for readers 3-7

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.

The Little Red Wolf, by Amelie Flechais,
(Oct. 2017, Lion Forge),$19.99, ISBN: 9781941302453
Recommended for readers 6-10

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.

Middle Bear, by Susanna Isern/Illustrated by Manon Gauthier,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388429
Recommended for readers 3-7

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.

No Room for Baby!, by Émile Jadoul,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388412
Recommended for readers 3-7

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.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

For the Right to Learn tells Malala’s story for younger readers

malalaFor the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, by Rebecca Langston-George/Illus. by Janna Bock (Sept. 2015, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 9781623704261

Recommended for ages 9-14

There are some great books available on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager that defied the Taliban by demanding education for girls and young women, and was shot for her activism. I have most of them in my library – I buy every book I can on Malala, because I want boys and girls alike to know her story and understand that education is a right that not every child enjoys in this world, and the lengths that children will go to in order to have that right.

Rebecca Langston-George’s book For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, illustrated by Janna Bock, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. We’ve seen Malala’s photos at the UN, of Malala in the hospital, Malala with her family, but illustrating a book on Malala allows us to see the events in her life that led to the present. Digitally created images, like Malala writing science formulas on her hands when other girls drew flowers are powerful and beautiful. The fear in her eyes and her friends’ eyes when a Taliban soldier boards her school bus, looking for her, grips readers who know what will happen – the drops of blood on a fallen book, set against a stark white background with the words, “Three shots shattered the silence”, is incredibly effective.

For visual middle grade learners, this is a great companion to any social studies/current events discussions. There is a glossary and an index in the back of the book, and there’s a great blog with Web resources that can round out any lesson plan on Malala.

Posted in Fantasy, geek culture, Graphic Novels, roleplaying, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

In Real Life: Where online worlds cross over to reality.

in real lifeIn Real Life, by Cory Doctorow/Illustrated by Jen Wang (:01 First Second, Oct. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596436589

Recommended for ages 13+

I’m a Cory Doctorow fan. I loved Little Brother, and I was fascinated by For the Win, which examines the lives of “gold farmers” – people whose job it is – in real life – to acquire gold and magic/rare items in games, and sell them to players for real-world currency. The gamers – which include children – are from poor families in third-world countries: India, China, and Singapore, working in deplorable conditions, and exploited by sweatshop bosses who pay pitiful wages.

In Real Life is a graphic novel about a girl named Anda, who loves playing a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) named Coarsegold. She makes friends in the gamespace, ultimately falling in with Lucy, a more experienced gamer who takes Anda under her wing. They stalk and “kill” the “gold farmers” they encounter, believing them to be cheating by selling gold and rare items to fellow gamers. The farmers look small, almost childlike, and Anda – despite doing this in the gamespace – feels guilty. She strikes up a friendship with one of the farmers, a Chinese teenager named Raymond, who tells her about his life and his job – laboring under sweatshop conditions to farm so that he can help support his family – and Anda decides that something needs to be done.

The story is similar to Doctorow’s plot in For the Win, but without delving into the global politics and economics involved in the novel. I loved this graphic novel, which could be an introduction or supplement to For the Win. We get to see positive representations of female gamers, teenagers, and we have a moral central character who is forced to understand that even morals don’t come solely in black and white. At the same time, In Real Life calls attention to a form of human rights violation taking place all over the world, yet located in our homes, our libraries, and anywhere we game.

Jen Wang’s art is perfect for Doctorow’s story. She’s got a manga style that works for me. Her use of color works to as a soft contrast to the tech storyline, and brings out the humanity at the tale’s core.

In Real Life publishes in October of this year, and I can’t wait to get it on my shelves. It’s going to be a great addition to any graphic novel collection, and a must-read for older tweens and teens, especially those who game. Social Studies courses could get some great discussions by adding this book to their curriculum.