Monthly Archives: September 2016

Steamboat School

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Steamboat School
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
Disney Hyperion, 2016

From the opening lines, the readers are invited into a story of depth.

“I always thought being brave
was for grown-up heroes doing big, daring deeds.
But Mama says that sometimes courage
is just an ordinary boy like me
doing a small thing, as small as picking up a pencil.”

Said by James, a young African American boy, about to go to school in 1847, the lines set a tone for the story.  Schooled by Reverend John, a former slave, in the church basement, the children heard stories of slaves and how they turned themselves around when they were freed.  But the white people did not like black people being educated and in 1847 passed a new Missouri law banning black people from reading and writing.  But Reverend John declared he’d find a way to teach the children.  Once day Reverend John invited the children on a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River, and so Freedom School was taught not in the State of Missouri, but on the Mississippi River, that belonged to the whole country.

The story is inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum, 1789-1854, who had bought his own freedom by working in saltpeter mines.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

One North Star, A Counting Book

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One North Star, A Counting Book

by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Beckie Prange and Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press, 2016

One North Star is ever so much more than a ‘counting’ book.  Its wood carvings and rich color illustrations pulled me into this wonderful poetic recounting that explores Minnesota’s North Star country.  We begin in the forest, move into bluffs, marshes, rivers, bogs, and prairies to cover the many terrains.  And in each, we are introduced to animals, birds, insects, and plants found there.  So much to explore.  Yet it is a counting book and in each terrain we enjoy identifying and counting as we learn more about each item featured.  Each page, rich in details, is a beauty to feast upon; one can almost breathe in the smells of each terrain. Fortunately, the book includes a directory of each terrain and each item mentioned, as well as how to find the North Star.

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From Wolf to Woof! The Story of Dogs

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From Wolf to Woof! The Story of Dogs

by Hudson Talbott
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016

From Wolf to Woof! Is a wonderful myth for children of how wolves evolved into dogs.

The tale begins with a single, orphaned wolf pup ostracized from the pack.  He encounters another orphan, a boy.  In figuring out how to survive with no adults to guide them, they become ‘friends’.  They soon learn that with the wolf’s nose and the boy’s spear, they can help each other find food.  In time other orphan pups and boys and girls join them. They learn to perfect their teamwork to capture their food. The wolves surround their prey and hunters spear it from a distance.  Working together, they learn to share the food and include everyone.   The myth briefly covers how dogs evolved to serve other needs of people.

Illustrations bring life to the story, and include a few surprises including full page spreads of running wolves and of the first time the boy touched the wolf pup.  A perfect introduction to the history of dogs.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Baby Wren and the Great Gift

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Baby Wren and the Great Gift
by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jen Corace
Zonderkidz, 2016

A sweet, thoughtful book about a baby wren alone in the canyon who learns of her talent and its importance in her world.

Written as a poem, with repetition for the young ones, the baby wren wonders why he couldn’t dive like the kingfisher, or why he couldn’t do cartwheels like a ring-tailed cat, or why he couldn’t swim like the sunfish.  But she soon learns that when she quietly watched the canyon turn pink for a very long time,

…what she saw couldn’t fit inside her
it bumped into her heart
it dazzled in her eyes
…until with all her tiny might
[she] sang
by herself
a song.

And so she learns that her song is wonderful and bigger than the whole canyon!

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Playing from the Heart

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Playing from the Heart
by Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick Press, 2016

Raj discovers piano and, with a natural talent and no lessons, creates dreamy music that floats through his house.  He is given piano lessons and his songs become more familiar, crisp and precise.  Yet, while he plays better, he gets more and more tired, until one day he quits playing.  Many years later, his father asks him to play a song.   Reluctantly he moves to the piano.  Then his father asks him to play, “The song without a name,” Raj returns to his early passion and notes emerge whispery and sweet.

The story subtly reminds readers to return to and stay focused on the heart in pursuing their passions.  Pursing ‘perfection’ over ‘joy’ can tarnish and end a joy.

Peter H Reynolds black and white drawings with musical notes featured in color splashes, portrays a whispery, whimsical feel to the music expressed.  Reynolds believes, “Creativity thrives on bravery and originality” and the book does an exquisite job of instilling this in young readers.

Read more reviews and purchase on Amazon.

A Year of Borrowed Men

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A Year of Borrowed Men

by Michelle Barker, illustrated by Renne Benoit
Pajama Press, 2015

In 1944 when all available German men were fighting in the war, French men were ‘borrowed’ to help work on the farms.  A true story of the author’s mother and told from a child’s point of view readers experience the fears, the friendships and the unfairness of how people were forced to live during the war.  The family wants to treat the workers well, but they are limited on what they can do.  They feed them well, but the men must sleep in the stinky barn.  A gentle story, told from the view point of a German girl, of how the war impacted German families.  A beautiful, poignant story that subtly introduces humanity during times of war.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Painting Pepette

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Painting Pepette

by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher
Little Bee Books, 2016

Painting Pepette is a fun way to introduce children to great Parisian artists.

Josette and her rabbit Pepette live in Paris and live in a house filled with fine art of her relatives, including her dog.  But one day Josette noticed there was no painting of Pepette.  So she went to Montmartre, where the best artists in Paris painted to find someone to paint Pepette.  Several artists, like Picasso, Matisse and Dali, take a hand at painting Pepette.  While the artists and many sidewalk critiques love the renderings, they are not right for Josette.  When Matisse points out, “But through art we can see the world any way we want,” Pepette knows exactly what to do.  A fulfilling story with loose, color-filled illustrations and a study in what makes a Picasso, Matisse, or Dali painting theirs.

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A Dark, Dark Cave

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A Dark, Dark Cave

by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
Viking, 2016

Written in simple rhyme, we follow a brother and sister, and their pet dog, who imagine themselves in a dark, dark cave.  Their imaginations run wild and tensions build as they explore, “Bats in flight//disappear from sight” and “While beasts howl//as they stomp and prowl”, all “in a dark, dark cave.”  When they come face to face with another live being, they “Roooaaaar!” to frighten the creature away.  Illustrated in pencil, colored pencil and ink with colorful action splashes against a backdrop of dark blue, the siblings shiver and quiver at each encounter.  A fun, scary, yet reassuring, story of a brother and sister at play.

Read more reviews on Amazon.