In Willow Hill, on the third night of the third month after a girl’s 13th birthday, she makes three wishes: an impossible wish, a wish she can make come true herself and the deepest wish of her secret heart in Lauren Myracle’s new children’s book Wishing Day.
Natasha Blok isn’t sure that she believes in magic (even though it’s rumored that the women in her family have more than most), but on her Wishing Day she dutifully hikes up Willow Hill to make her three wishes under the ancient willow tree. Should she wish for a kiss from the cutest boy in school or would that be a waste of a wish? Should she wish for her mother to come back? But if her mother’s dead, would she come back as a zombie? And if she isn’t dead, where has she been for the past eight years?
After Natasha makes her wishes, she begins to receive encouraging notes from an unknown person. She hopes they’re coming from her crush, Benton, but she fears it could be the fantastically weird and mysterious Bird Lady that she keeps running into.
It’s too bad Natasha doesn’t have anyone around to help her figure things out. Her father is disengaged, her aunts hold tightly to their secrets and her sisters and best friend don’t quite get her.
Natasha’s life is big on mystery and short on answers in this first book of a planned trilogy. The sequels will presumably focus on the Wishing Days of Natasha’s two younger sisters, who were all born one year apart, and reveal the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.
Readers who enjoy magical realism or books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead will want to check this one out.
In the world of the Six Princes, each nation is ruled by a House that is adept in a particular kind of magic. For Lily of House Shadow, descended from necromancers and dark wizards, this magic — Shadow Magic — is forbidden to her, because she’s a girl. Her brother, the heir to the throne of Gehenna, the land of the undead, could learn magic, but she couldn’t.
When her family is assassinated, she becomes queen, a role she never was expected to fill. She’s also now the only one who can fulfill the marriage arrangement between House Shadow and House Solar, rulers of the Lumina, the land of light, who were previously House Shadow’s mortal enemy. Per the agreement, she will have to leave everything she loves and knows and move to her obnoxious fiancé’s homeland if she hopes to maintain the shaky peace between their Houses.
In another nation, the peasant boy Thorn is trying to find his father when he’s captured and sold as a slave to House Shadow’s executioner Tyburn. He faces a life far from everything he knows, trapped in service to the rulers of a world of shadow and darkness, where rumor says vampires roam freely and the dead are House Shadow’s army. He’s not exactly thrilled at the thought of becoming some monster’s lunch.
Meeting at Castle Gloom, these two unlikely allies will have to rely on each other to keep Lily in Gehenna, keep Thorn out of trouble, uncover a plot to overthrow House Shadow and stop a murderous necromancer from raising an army of zombies. Their allies include a captured prince from another nation and a giant bat, but their enemies may be a lot closer than they know.
The first in a series, Joshua Khan’s debut children’s book is full of macabre fantasy, daring adventure and a dash of political intrigue. Shadow Magic is an action-packed mystery with plenty of surprises. The illustrations are delightful, the characters are complex and the cliffhangers will keep readers guessing until the end. Any fan of the Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series should check out Shadow Magic. Readers also won’t have to wait long for the second book; it’s already slated to be published next year.
The biggest hero of our time, the only creature that can rescue this dimension from an invasion of demons, the Greatest Warrior of our world…is a bean-shaped little scamp. More monster than human, more lazy than adventuring and more gluttonous than anything, the protagonist of Help Us! Great Warrior is not exactly the picture that comes to mind when imagining a legendary hero. She’s a three-foot-tall orb that wears boots and a bow on her head. She wields a sword and shield when she feels like it, but mostly because one’s shaped like a heart and the other has a cute bunny for a handle. When called upon to save the world by Hadiyah, the legendary guardian and keeper of the hero registry, her response is an awe inspiring, “Nah.” Only when her villagers are threatened — and with the encouragement of her best friend Leo — does she finally drag herself into battle.
Quirky is an understatement when it comes to the adorable, whimsical, bizarre story of Help Us! Great Warrior. It’s artistically bright and bouncy, with soft and appealing characters that make an instant and lasting impact as you enjoy each page. The humor hinges on the bizarre and unexpected, reminding readers not only visually but story-wise of other children’s epics like Adventure Time. Prepare to be enchanted by Great Warrior and her journey. She’s especially great for kids and especially inspiring for young girls, but a delight to all ages.
After a long and snowy winter, springtime is here...and so are the bears! If you like your picture books entertaining and educational, be sure to check out these three new books.
Shh! Bears Sleeping written by David Martin with pictures by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher opens with a mama bear and her two cubs awakening at the beginning of spring, and then follows the three American black bears through the year, all the way to the next winter when the bears again pile in their den to sleep. The oil painting illustrations depicting scenes throughout the four seasons are beautifully done, and readers will enjoy the short, fun rhyming text as well as the additional facts presented in a short section at the end.
In A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by David Roberts, the narrator guides you through a walk in the woods where you are lucky enough to encounter both a black bear and a brown bear. The narrator talks you through the encounter and explains a few differences between them. While the book is humorous, it is careful to let young readers know that the only bears you should snuggle are of the stuffed variety. The illustrations are gorgeous, quirky and sure to bring laughs.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall tells the fascinating story behind the namesake of Winnie-the-Pooh. In 1914, a veterinarian and solider named Captain Harry Colebourn bought a bear cub for $20 at a train station. The cub traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade and became their mascot and companion as they trained in England. Named Winnipeg in honor of Colebourn’s hometown, the bear found a permanent home at the London Zoo when the soldiers shipped to France. Author Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Colebourn and frames the tale as a bedtime story to her young son, Cole. The story is fascinating, and the connection to A. A. Milne’s famous bear adds extra interest.
Reading poems out loud is a great way for children to learn the auditory aspects of English, such as rhyme, meter, assonance and alliteration. These colorful books for children add visual enrichment to poetry and are great picks for this year’s National Poetry Month.
Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea is filled with animal-themed haikus and brightly illustrated pictures. Each haiku is from a different animal with simple clues as to what that animal might be. The first animal comes from a farm and uses “muffled mooing” to announce a “fresh pail of milk.” Turn the page and you find that the haiku does in fact come from a cow! The book continues in this pattern, with haiku clues on one page and the animal answer on the next, making a fun guessing game for kids reading the book. The book has a note from the author explaining that traditional Japanese haikus have an element of play, making this guessing game a lesson in cultural context as well as poetic style.
Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz’s A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters is another book of poems about animals, but these animals are exclusively from the sea. This book also features a different animal on each page, but makes use of typography and a catchy blue, orange and white ocean-themed color scheme to capture the reader’s attention. The rhyming patterns vary depending on the animal. Sea turtles get a regal ode, words to describe a jellyfish curve around the page and a pair of needlefish intersect at the letter “e” for a crossword puzzle-style word cloud of adjectives. There are well-known styles of poems utilized as well, from a lion-fish haiku to a coral-reef acrostic. The end of the book includes further resources about sea creatures and aquatic wildlife, making this book a colorful compendium of science, art and literature.
We have been celebrating Earth Day since 1970. Many things have changed in the past 46 years, but the message remains the same: Take care of the Earth, it’s the only one we have. Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander’s new picture book This Is the Earth is unique because its message is not only how to take care of the Earth, but why it is so important to do so.
This Is the Earth is written in rhythmic, rhyming verse that becomes soothing and engaging as you read. Vibrant, full-page color illustrations by Wendell Minor take the reader through the vast and varying landscapes of Earth — from an African safari to a bustling river to the endless blue sky “speckled with birds.” As the book continues, the reader travels both geographically across Earth and over spans of time. The illustrations smoothly transition from Native Americans harvesting crops to homesteading pioneers, from the Industrial Revolution up to the present day.
At first, the story is positive: We are slowly learning to make the most of our land and resources over time, which helps us raise our standard of living. However, the book quickly takes a darker turn as the illustrations venture beyond shiny cities and productive workers. The once-lush green farmland is now an overflowing landfill, and the bustling river of fish is now a dumping ground for bright orange toxic waste. The book looks at our treatment of the Earth almost as too much of a good thing. Our lives and industrialization may be improving, but at the dire cost of our natural resources and habitat. If we take away from the Earth, we must also give back.
The book gives simple suggestions at the end, such as recycling or using less water. The overall takeaway message, though, is much more resonant and memorable: We share this Earth with other people and living things, and we should keep that in mind with the decisions we make.
April is National Poetry month! Here are some suggestions for the young poets in your life.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is an ambitious project by Roxane Orgill, who decided to commemorate an event in jazz history and wound up telling the story through poems by accident. In 1958, Art Kane orchestrated this historic photograph for Esquire magazine, which documented some of the legendary jazz musicians living in New York at the time. Using poetic forms allows Orgill to shift perspectives, so that she can tell the different thoughts and experiences of the photographic subjects — from Thelonious Monk to the kids on the street — and even fit in a few stories of those noticeably absent from the photograph. Francis Vallejo’s accompanying mixed-media drawings beautifully illustrate the imagery described in the poems. It is obvious that Jazz Day is an ode from a true devotee of the music, but it is also an engaging entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre who might like to explore more.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a collection of poems by Julie Fogliano that starts with the spring equinox, March 20th, and documents different days through the rest of the year. Filled with sensual imagery, the poems capture brief personal, meditative moments that signify the changing of seasons and belie a close connection with nature. While reading, it is easy to conjure up the smell of lilacs, the taste of strawberries and the sound of the ocean. Acclaimed artist Julie Morstad’s accompanying illustrations are a perfect fit for depicting these lighthearted and intimate moments.
Younger readers who are still figuring out how poetry works will appreciate the picture book Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. Follow Daniel as he consults the birds, bugs, squirrels and other animals, asking them “What is poetry?” Readers will see how he incorporates their responses in a grand finale, when he unveils his poem at Poetry in the Park on Sunday. The book’s pages are vibrantly illustrated with cut paper drawings and paintings that rival those of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert.
Life is Far from Fair for Odette Zyskowski in Elana K. Arnold’s new novel. If it had been put to a vote, Odette would not have elected to sell her family home, move into an ugly RV and share one cell phone with her quarreling parents and volatile younger brother. But her father didn’t ask for Odette’s opinion before quitting his job and uprooting the family, and the list of unfair occurrences in her life has begun to pile up at a rapid pace as they travel to Grandma Sissy’s home. However, none of the problems and predicaments along the way compares to the unfairness Odette discovers when they arrive.
When Odette and Grandma Sissy are discussing how powerless Odette feels during this time of upheaval, Grandma Sissy reveals what Odette calls a “grownup truth” — those things grownups know to be true, but don’t typically share: Sometimes you are powerless. Sometimes, bad things happen and we can't stop them. This book contains many such grownup truths, but Arnold does not preach to or talk down to her readers. Hard subjects are confronted gently but directly.
The settings, all the way from suburban California to Washington’s Orcas Island, as well as the difficulties of living in an RV, are so superbly described it may leave you wondering if the author herself ever embarked on such a road trip. The book does indeed have true life beginnings: After Arnold’s husband was laid off, they sold their home and belongings and hit the open road. Meanwhile, Arnold pursued her dream of being a writer. Far from Fair is her sixth novel for teen and young readers.
For more well-written children’s fiction that confronts issues of family life and illness, check out So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.
Was Ramona Quimby one of your best friends? Did you want a mouse on a motorcycle? Then you enjoyed the imaginative and timeless worlds created by Beverly Cleary. Cleary’s wonderful books have impacted generations of readers and, today, as she celebrates her 100th birthday, we pay homage to a standard bearer of children’s literature.
Cleary noted that when she a child in the 1920s and as a young librarian, almost all of the children’s books she came across were about kids in England. Determined to offer children something more relatable, she put pen to paper with a simple writing style infused with humor and a story based on common human experiences. Her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950, was about a boy, his dog and their friends, all of whom lived on Klickitat Street in Portland, a street in Cleary’s childhood neighborhood. According to Cleary, Henry Huggins and the other child characters in the book were based on children she grew up with and those who attended story time at her library. She would go on to write several more books about Henry Huggins and his friends, including the Quimby sisters, who would be featured in their own books, the first of which, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955.
Popular with children, she was also a favorite with critics who recognized her skill and talent with numerous awards, including the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Cleary's books have been published in 20 different languages, and 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since 1950. Indeed, her popularity is just as strong in Baltimore County with all of her titles in all formats circulating almost 4,000 times this year alone! A few weeks ago, Cleary sat with The Today Show for an interview where she was asked about this milestone and her career and she said she’s proudest of the simple fact that "children love my books."
A rhythmically written biography with read-to-me value, Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler by Kate Klimo is a fantastic little journey that will help parents and children explore the inspiration and the legend of the iconic man known as Dr. Seuss. The book imitates the format that so many of his own did with large easy-to-read words and lush illustrations on every page. This playful format makes it a wonderful introduction to Ted Geisel’s journey, narrating his growth from whimsically doodling child to an advertising illustrator for hire to his first, then second, then eventually 44 published books for children.
Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler is quick to read but easy to linger on every page thanks to the detailed illustration and wonderfully inspirational story. It would be an ideal read-to-me story time book for younger children, or a good starting point for school-age children to use as a base for further research into Seuss, his process, his life’s history or bookmaking and creating children’s literature in general. Stories like The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are not only iconic pieces of modern pop culture but they were, at their inception, a transformative force that created a new movement of teaching children how to read in the United States. Celebrate a creative man’s life and learn a new thing or two with your children, and most importantly, have fun! It’s what Dr. Seuss would want you to do.