Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

No Ordinary Jacket: memories preserved in clothing

No Ordinary Jacket, by Sue-Ellen Pashley/Illustrated by Thea Baker, (Aug. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536209662

Ages 3-7

Amelia’s got a special jacket. It’s no ordinary jacket; it’s “soft, like dandelion fluff… warm, like the afternoon sun… comforting, like a hug from y our favorite teddy bear. And it had four dazzling buttons down the front”. She wears the jacket everywhere, but eventually, she grows out of it. Her sister Lilly inherits the jacket, and she loves it, too. Lilly also grows out of it, but she puts it on her favorite doll, and later, uses the jacket to keep her cat and brand new litter of kittens warm. When Mom rediscovers the old, dirty jacket covered in cat fur, she decides it has to go. But how can you let go of such a wonderful jacket with so many memories? Luckily, Mom comes up with an even better idea that makes everyone happy. A heartwarming story about memories and physical objects, readers will love this comforting story. It’s reassuring to know that favorite objects don’t have to outlive their use and can take on new life as something different; sharing and making new memories as the years pass. The collage artwork is beautiful, giving texture and life to each spread. The tapestry jacket looks comfortable and warm; you can almost feel the soft cuffs and the woven cloth of the jacket.

These days, upcycling is even more popular; I’ve been making sure to suggest crafts using common household products when I’m doing virtual programming. There are great upcycling ideas for kids all over the Web: Red Tricycle has some good ideas here.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

This Grandparents Day, let your kids read the stories to their grands

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family, by Elizabeth Zunon,
(May 2019, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN:  978-1-68119-640-4
Ages 5-9

A girl and her father bake a cake and reminisce about “Grandpa Cacao” – her father’s father – and his life working on a cacao farm on the African Ivory Coast. Lush images come to life through Elizabeth Zunon’s oil paint, collage and screenprint artwork; there’s gorgeous texture and movement across the landscape, and Grandpa Cacao appears as a pale image, illustrating his existence as a “mythical figure” in the girl’s imagination. Inspired by the author’s own “Grandpa Cacao”, this is a heartwarming link across generations and celebrating the joy of creating together and uniting families. Back matter includes author’s notes and maps on the realities of the cacao trade, the sobering perseverance of child labor, and fair trade. There are notes on the science and history of chocolate, and a cake recipe to try with the kids.

Grandparents Day Idea: Talk to kids about their grandparents’ stories. Where are their grandparents from? Do they have memories of growing up to share? Does the family have any special recipes that have been handed down through generations?

 

Looking for Yesterday, by Alison Jay, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536204216
Ages 4-7

A young boy tries to use science to figure out how to travel back in time, so he can relive the great day he had the day before. When he asks his grandfather for advice, he learns that memories are great, but it’s exciting to look forward to the possibilities of adventure in the here and now. Alison Jay gives her character a wonderfully childlike reasoning process – yesterday was so great, let’s try to get back there and live it again! – and has him go through the motions of working on the science to make it happen; her crackled oil artwork giving a vintage-looking life to the story. As the boy calculates going faster than light speed, we see his mind at work: he’s flying around the world, wearing a cape; using a time machine that looks like a giant unicycle; configuring a garbage can into a rocket. The boy’s grandfather walks him through a photo album as he recounts the past, drawing the boy into his adventures as the two fly on a scrapbook to see mountain tops, whales, and hot air balloons. The grandfather-grandson relationship is warm and loving, communicated with warm colors and body language. A great book to encourage kids to seize the day.

Grandparents Day Idea: Get out the photo albums and show kids your adventures! Show them your childhoods, talk to them about playing with your friends; going to school; exciting and ordinary things you did as a child. See how things are different, and how things are the same.

 

My Grandma and Me, by Mina Javaherbin, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763694944
Ages 4-8

This autobiographical story of a the author as a young girl and her grandmother, living in pre-revolutionary Iran, brought me to tears with it beautiful storytelling. The opening line – “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma” – poetically brings to life that everlasting love between grandparents and their grandchildren. Mira Javaherbin invites us to glimpse into her life as we see her lay across her grandmother during morning prayer; send down baskets to buy bread from the boy on his bicycle, bread piled high in a basket; waiting for her grandmother to break fast during Ramadan, so she can eat with her; hiding under a table strewn with her grandmother’s chadors, as she “helps” her make news ones. Lindsey Yankey’s mixed media illustrations create a cozy, welcoming space for us to spend time reading Mina’s story. Mina’s best friend and her grandmother are Christian; Mina and her grandmother are Muslim. The two girls play together while their grandmothers craft and enjoy each other’s company; each goes to their own house of worship and prays for the other. It’s a quietly strong celebration of two cultures, two faiths, living and playing together. With starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, this loving look at the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is a perfect gift book and storytime book.

Grandparents Day Idea: Do you have memories of your grandparents that you’d like to share with your kids? Talk to your kids about spending time with your grandparents as a child, or as an adult, if you have stories to tell. Ask them what they like to do when they’re with grandparents. Do they like to play board games together? Do they read together?
Around the Table that Grandad Built, by Melanie Hauser Hill/Illustrated by Jaime Kim, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763697846
Ages 3-7
A sweet take on the classic cumulative story, The House that Jack Built, this heartwarming story assembles a multicultural family for a celebration centering around a table that Grandad built. Each part of the celebration is warm, inclusive, and participatory: cousins gather sunflowers; Mom’s sewn napkins that go with the dishes; glasses come from Mom and Dad’s wedding, and flatware comes from Dad’s grandma, all coming together to create a global table where the family enjoys squash, tamales, samosas, and other tasty fare, all prepared by members of the family. It’s a celebration of family steeped in tradition, linked across generations. The acrylic, crayon, and digital artwork adds to the handmade feel of the story and is rendered with bright primary colors, making this an upbeat story that will work for any family gathering. (Definitely keep this one on hand for Thanksgiving.)
Grandparents Day idea: Prepare a favorite dish with your grandkids, or create something with them. If you have little ones, try a no-sew project, or consider a craft that brings your generations together – handprints are always a good choice, and you can easily take some inspiration from the choices out there, while making it your own.
Grandpa’s Top Threes, by Wendy Meddour/Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536211252
Ages 3-6
Henry loves to talk to his Grandpa, but Grandpa hasn’t been talking much these days; preferring instead to silently work on his garden. When Henry nudges Grandpa by indulging in his favorite game – Top Threes – Grandpa finally starts talking, giving thoughtful answers that ultimately rebuild the bridge between them. And then we find out what’s really going on: Grandpa is mourning Granny. In a moment that’s at once touching and heartbreaking, Henry asks Grandpa who his three favorite Grannies are, citing his favorites as his two grandmothers, plus the granny from Red Riding Hood. Grandpa recounts his favorite three memories of Granny as his three favorites, including the Granny that first held Baby Henry. The simple, moving prose is eloquent and full of feeling; full of aching and loss, and yet, instilled with deep affection and love for a grandchild and for a spouse. A beautiful, tender story that you may need a tissue or two for, but one not to be missed. Daniel Egnéus’s watercolor illustrations are digitally assembled, giving a mixed media, textured feel to the layers of the story with each turn of the page. Make this one available to kids who have lost a grandparent, and encourage them to talk about their Top Threes.
Grandparents Day idea: Talk about your Top Three moments; Top Three grandmas and grandpas, or Top Three anything.
Our Favorite Day, by JoowonOh, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0357-8
Ages 3-6
Grandpa has a routine he keeps to: a morning cup of tea, some light housework, and a bus ride into town, where he has lunch at his favorite dumpling shop, but Thursday is the best day of the week for Grandpa and his young granddaughter. It’s their day, and Grandpa is making sure it’s a good one! He chooses some crafting materials at a craft shop on his trip to town, gets two orders of dumplings to go, picks some flowers, and is ready to greet his granddaughter with a hug when she bounds out of the car! Together, the two enjoy their lunch, make a kite, and head out to fly it. With a narrative consisting of both omniscient narration and word-balloons, this adorably illustrated story is a wonderful way to celebrate grandparents and grandkids spending time together, and illustrates how important each is to the other. Grandpa has his own routine, but he lives for those Thursdays; he’s ready and waiting for his best buddy to arrive, and she can’t wait to get there. The affection and time they spend together is heartwarming and shows the mutual benefits of a multigenerational relationship. Joonwon On’s watercolor, gouache, and cut paper artwork creates texture and a scrapbook-like environment to envelop the reader. An absolutely adorable, touching story of grandparents and their grandkids.
Grandparents Day Idea: Craft together! Make a fun project together: it can be a kite, like the story shows, but it can be as easy as coloring together. I used to save a bag of fabric scraps from old clothes; when my Nana came to visit, I’d dump the bag on the table, and we’d make clothes for my dolls together. The craft doesn’t matter; the time you spend together does.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

There’s an Anthill for Sale! Wait… maybe.

Anthill for Sale, by Johnny Ray Moore/Illustrated by Zuzana Svobodova, (Nov. 218, Big Belly Book Co.), $10.95, ISBN: 978-1-7325541-1-5

Ages 3-6

This whimsical rhyming tale tells the story of Alvin, an ant, who puts his home up for sale… but has some reservations about the whole thing. We meet a hilarious group of potential buyers, including a stinkbug, a mole, and a centipede, all of whom want to remodel the home in their own fashion. Each one gets a hearty heave-ho from Alvin, who has so many memories much invested in his home, that it’s almost impossible to think of having someone else living there. He and his wife raised their family in that anthill, after all; and entertained countless family and friends there. He finally turns to his wife and says, “This anthill is full of our dreams. They have made us so happy, day in and day out, They have taught us what life really means”.

With bright, bold illustrations and a relaxing cadence to the rhyme, parents will relate to Alvin’s reluctance to sell his longtime home, and kids will understand how memories form who we are. This one is an nice additional purchase to picture book collections. The Not-the-Mama-Dad Blog has a great interview with author Johnny Ray Moore, where he talks about his inspiration for the story.

 
Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Dad’s Camera explains Alzheimer’s to children

Dad’s Camera, by Ross Watkins/Illustrated by Liz Anelli, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201383

Ages 5-10

A boy’s father comes home one day with “one of those old cameras, the kind that uses film”, and starts taking pictures of the world around him. The boy and his mother don’t think much of it at first – Dad is doing funny things, like putting tools in the fridge, and milk in the cupboard; it’s what the doctor says will continue happening. As Dad continues photographing everyday objects, the boy and his mother wonder why he’s not taking pictures of them: aren’t they worth remembering, too? Dad just looks puzzled, and makes collages of his developed photos, sticking them on a window. When Dad passes, a package arrives for the boy and his mother: it’s the camera, with one photo left to be developed. The boy and his mother discover a final photo from Dad: a family portrait.

Dad’s Camera is a heartbreaking conversation about a young family struggling with Alzheimer’s, inspired by the author’s father-in-law, who developed the disease when his daughter was a tween. An author’s note explains that Ross Watkins wrote Dad’s Camera to “create a way for children and adults to talk about the confusion often surrounding Alzheimer’s, but also to celebrate the tenderness and small surprises of such difficult times”. Mission accomplished: Dad’s Camera is a series of poignant, small moments that are tender and loving; a bright spot in a family’s dark time. It’s a moving, bittersweet story of loss, grief, and the joy of memory and is a smart addition to your collections. It begins a conversation that is normally reserved for grandparents and elder family members, and provides a comforting strength for families.

 

Liz Anelli’s incorporates collage, watercolor, mono print, acrylic, and digital color to create a sedate atmosphere for the story, always mindful of details that readers will discover through multiple reads. A bus runs a camera film ad on its side in one spread; in the next spread, the camera arrives in a box with the same photo on the side. The colors are warm, homey, and yet, infused with a sadness and a yearning.

Dad’s Camera was originally published in the UK as One Photo (2016).

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Voices of the Second World War connects generations

Voices From the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today, by Candlewick Press, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763694920

Recommended for readers 10+

As generations grow farther and farther from World War 2, we live in danger of losing the stories of those who lived through the conflict. Voices From the Second World War collects the stories of veterans and citizens alike into one volume, but what sets this book apart from other first-person anecdotes and memories is the bridge that Voices builds: the stories are told to children from this generation; family members and students alike. Originally published in Britain, Voices began as an initiative by the British Children’s newspaper, First News, where they published these collected accounts. There are accounts from military men and women, including the Enola Gay’s navigator, telling the story of how he dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; and there are stories from civilians who endured the conflict, like the 8-year-old boy who survived that bombing, lost his mother and baby sister, and saw his father and surviving sisters die from radiation poisoning. There are stories from concentration camp survivors and German citizens who lived in fear of the Russian troops coming in after the Allied forces left. Vintage photos run throughout the book, and an index and glossary make this a necessary reference for history readers and collections.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

Recommended for ages 11-14

In the dystopian future, there is no more war, disease, or poverty. There are no choices, either – in 12-year old Jonas’s community, spouses are assigned to one another, children are assigned to families, and children’s milestones are pre-selected and celebrated once a year. At age seven, they receive jackets that button in the front. At the age of nine, they receive bicycles. At the age of 12, they attend the Ceremony of Twelve, where they are assigned their careers. Jonas, who has been experiencing feelings that has made him feel different from his peers, is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory – the sole repository for the collective memories of the community. He begins to work with the outgoing Receiver, now called The Giver, to receive the memories and learns disturbing truths through both the memories and the truths he begins to see in his daily life in the village.

The Giver is one of those books that sticks with you, changing the way you think about things. What price is a group willing to pay to live in a perfect, ordered society? Jonas, in receiving memories, plays the part of Adam in the Garden of Eden – he receives knowledge, and with knowledge comes confusion. Is his community right because they don’t know better? He begins to question everything around him and everything he’s ever known; when he sees his father commit an act in the course of his daily work that he finds unspeakable, the last vestiges of what he believes in are thrown into chaos.
 
The Giver is one of the most challenged books books in middle schools across America, usually for its portrayal of euthanasia (but also for what has been considered a sexual reference). Regardless of its challenges, it remains a popular and important middle-school book that speaks to the power of free will and choice. There are many lesson plans for this book on the Web, including this comprehensive one from the Mountain City Elementary School District in Tennessee. The book won the 1994 Newbery Medal and the 1996 William Allen White Children’s Book Award and has been designated an American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. The Giver is the first in a 3-book series that includes Gathering Blue and Messenger.
 
Lois Lowry is an award-winning YA author; she has received numerous awards, including two Newbery medals (for The Giver and Number the Stars). Her website lists all of the awards she’s won in addition to offering book information, a biography, her blog, her photos, and copies of her speeches.