Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bedtime stories to cuddle and giggle by: Sleep and Just Because

Bedtime story time is always a great way to bring a day to a close. It’s cuddle time, you’re winding things down, and sometimes, you can lull yourself to sleep with a good, calming story. They can be funny, they can be silly, they can be sweet; most of all they allow you to share some much needed downtime with your kiddos. Here are two recent ones I’ve been enjoying with my kiddo.

Sleep: How Nature Gets Its Rest, by Kate Prendergast, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207989

Ages 4-7

Animals sleep, just like we do, but some animals sleep very differently. Dogs and cats sleep curled up… when they aren’t playing; giraffes sleep standing up; meerkats sleep in a heap, and fish swim while they sleep and don’t close their eyes! Sleep: How Nature Gets its Rest is a quiet book on how different animals sleep, beautifully illustrated with muted mixed media. The brief text makes for calm, soothing bedtime reading, and the one-two sentences per page makes this a good choice for emerging readers with an interest in animals during waking hours, too. A concluding note asks readers if they think animals dream, giving them something to ponder as they fall asleep. Back matter offers more information on each of the animals who appear in the book, and websites for more reading about animal habits.

What a sweet way to fall asleep.

Just Because, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763696801

Ages 4-8

Parents will appreciate this book just as much as the kids do. It’s bedtime, but a little girl is not ready for bed yet: there are too many questions to be answered! “Why is the ocean blue? What is the rain? Why do the leaves change color?” One question leads to another in this story that many, many parents and caregivers will recognize. The responses will make you laugh even harder, because this caregiver has a sense of creative humor with his answers. Just Because is an invitation to the imagination for parents and kids alike, and is an instantly recognizable, tongue-in-cheek recreation of bedtime and its many delays. Isabelle Arsenault’s gouache, pencil, and watercolor artwork is minimal in color, with pale color to pages for emphasis, and wonderfully brings each answer to life: we have dinosaurs strapped to giant balloons and birds, warming themselves by a matchstick that blooms into an autumn leaf. Let this book guide you the next time you’re tempted to respond, “Just because” to a child’s question. Don’t miss this one.

Mac Barnett is a Caldecottt Honor-winning, award-winning, children’s book author who (along with being one of my favorites) creates hilarious, thoughtful, and often whimsical stories for kids.

Just Because has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What is the Secret of Dreadwillow Carse?

dreadwillowThe Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey (Apr. 2016, Algonquin Young Readers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781616205058

Recommended for ages 8-12

In a fantasy kingdom where all the subjects are deliriously happy, two girls bond over their mutual feelings of sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, determination. Princess Jeniah is a 12 year-old Queen Ascendant; her mother is dying and she’s got very little time left to learn to be a queen, let alone to process the grief she’s feeling. Her mother’s cryptic message about the mysterious bog, Dreadwillow Carse, fires up her curiosity: “If you enter the Carse, the monarchy will fall.”

At the same time, a village girl, Aon, loses her father when the Crimson Hoods come and take him away, ostensibly to become the next advisor to the monarchy. The villagers barely recognize that he’s gone, and Aon – who’s already lost her mother to the Carse – is bereft. Aon is not like the other villagers. She feels a sadness she can’t explain. All the time.

When the two girls encounter one another, Jeniah asks Aon for a favor: explore the Carse. The monarchy can ask someone else to enter the Carse, after all, can’t they? In return, Aon asks Jeniah to send her father home. This meeting sets each girl off on her own personal voyage of discovery, where they’ll uncover long-kept secrets of the Carse, the monarchy, and most importantly, about themselves.

On the face of it, this is an interesting middle grade fantasy tale, with multicultural characters and a Big Secret to be uncovered. Read a little deeper, and you discover that this is an interesting portrayal of pre-adolesence set in a high fantasy setting. A villager and a monarch bond over their mutual sadness, that they feel they can never show to others. The people around them are either keeping secrets from them, as with Jeniah, or are wandering through life in a false delirium, refusing to see what’s going on around them, as with Aon. Aon feels a sadness no other villager can grasp, and she feels frustrated and ignored. The Carse’s presence holds so many answers, but they’re discouraged from venturing in. They have to work together to find answers, and those answers will reveal terrible truths about those around them.

Tweens will identify with the girls and their feelings of frustration; many will understand the undercurrent of seemingly inexplicable sadness and the pressure to put on a smiling face. They’ll share Jeniah’s frustration with her tutor, who answers all of her questions with questions – she has to learn not only to question everything, but to weigh the answers in front of her before she acts. The character development is built steadily through the book, with small plot reveals throughout leading readers further and further, until they reach the conclusion that hits hard and leaves a lot of questions in its wake. This is a great book to hold a discussion group with. I’ll be booktalking it for sure.

A good addition to middle grade collections and fantasy fans’ TBRs. Author insights and an excerpt are available on the Algonquin website. The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse has received a starred review from School Library Journal.