Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis honors seventeen civil rights heroes in the beautifully illustrated collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. While Lewis’ poems celebrate well-known leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Mohandas Gandhi, he also uses this as an opportunity to present lesser known heroes to today’s children. These include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy activist. and Dennis James Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist. The verses bring to life the spirit of these men and women who impacted the world at large and each is accompanied by a beautiful artwork from four of today’s most celebrated illustrators.
Activism is at the heart of Crow, by adult author Barbara Wright, her first novel for children. It’s the summer of 1898, and Moses Thomas of Wilmington, North Carolina is looking forward to a fabulous summer vacation. But things don’t go as planned when his best friend finds a new pal, his father and grandmother intensify their squabbling, and his mother works long days as a maid for a rich white family. He also grows increasingly aware of the escalating tension between the African American and white communities. Moses’ dad is an alderman in town and works for the African American newspaper. The African American middle class in Wilmington is growing, but not everyone is pleased with the power wielded by this population, and a White Declaration of Independence is issued. Leading African American figures, including Moses’ father, are told to leave town. The resulting riots bring devastation to the community and directly impact Moses’ family and future. Told from the realistic point of view of a courageous young boy, this story combines historic details of the disenfranchisement of the African American community in one town with a moving coming of age story.
Bird & Squirrel on the Run! is the funny new graphic novel from James Burks. Squirrel accidentally loses his winter supply of nuts while trying to rescue Bird from the Cat. Limited by an injured wing, Bird talks Squirrel into walking south with him to survive the winter. Thus begins a wonderful buddy adventure for the younger reader. While Bird is fun-loving and adventurous, Squirrel is very cautious and nervous. As Bird learns a little bit about responsibility and Squirrel learns a little bit about fun, the two new friends contend with angry bees, scary snakes, waterfalls, dire predictions (from a fortune-telling mole!) and one determined cat on their way to warmer lands. Displaying loyalty and fortitude, the pair faces down one last fearsome, flying foe. Will the friends survive their journey?
Burks’ bright colorful illustrations are easy to follow. Using such details as an acorn helmet for the cautious Squirrel and aviator goggles for the adventurous Bird, Burks’ artwork complements the story well. His lesson of a happy medium between being overly-cautious and carelessly adventurous is subtly conveyed. While the text is simple and very manageable, the story is delightfully detailed. This book could serve as a wonderful transition to chapter books for the newly independent reader… and it’s a fun read!
Prolific children’s author Bruce Coville is back with a fresh serving of the deliciously weird. Welcome to Always October, where the weather is always autumnal and monsters abound. It is a world separate from our own, yet woven into the essential fabric of human dreams and fears. Now the links between these worlds are in danger of unraveling, and the fate of each hangs by a thread.
Sixth grader Jake Doolittle isn’t fond of surprises. In the second grade, his best friend Lily nearly mucked up their friendship by proposing to him in front of the entire class (True story!) In the fourth grade, his adored dad disappeared under mysterious circumstances. So when Jake opens the door one stormy night to find a baby swaddled in black on the front porch, he’s more than a little uneasy. A note left with the baby urges the family to protect Little Dumpling until his guardian can return. Jake’s mother falls in love with the baby immediately, and it isn’t long before Jake himself falls for the smiles and gurgles of his new little brother. But when the light of a full moon hits Little Dumpling, it reveals a bright green furry little monster!
Little Dumpling may be a little monster at times, but he’s still Jake’s brother now and he’s determined to protect LD and get to the bottom of the baby’s transformation. Jake turns to Lily and together the two seek to solve the puzzle of Little Dumpling’s transformation, his unusual ancestry, and the curious link between the baby monster and Jake’s father. Alternating point-of-view narration, snappy dialogue, and quirky characters keep readers on their toes as they follow Jake, Lily and Little Dumpling on their adventure.
Written in short, episodic passages by a boy as a memorial to his beloved friend, Michael Gerard Bauer’s short novel Just a Dog is a contemporary elegy, ably covering a rite of passage that many children must face. Corey’s uncle is a breeder of Dalmatians. The breeder loses track of one of his females, who later has a litter of puppies that are clearly not 100% Dalmatian. Most of the pups are given away to strangers, but 3-year-old Corey chooses and names Mister Mosely. He is a gangly, mostly white puppy with enormous paws, and just a few black patches here and there, including a heart shape on his chest. Each vignette that now 11-year-old Corey writes in his journal describes his memories of incidences with the lovable Moe, the family’s nickname for the dog.
An Australian import, the novel includes some terminology that will have kids learning new Down Under vocabulary, but context clues allow for full understanding. The familiar story of the relationship between a family and a pet is deepened by the serious issues that Corey’s parents must deal with when they become financially strapped. Corey’s little sister Amelia provides comic relief. Her relationship with the enormous yet gentle Mister Mosely includes episodes of dressing him up in various outfits, and using permanent markers to create a constant surprised look on his face.
Corey and the rest of his family face true, difficult emotions at the end of Mister Mosely’s short life. It is unlikely that most readers both young and old will be able to get through the novel without shedding a tear for Mister Mosely, as Bauer concisely and accurately depicts the loyalty, love, and pure heart a beloved pet provides to humans. All told, he's much more than “just a dog”.
Children love a good story, especially when it includes things loud, obnoxious, and inappropriate. Tumford’s Rude Noises, by author/illustrator Nancy Tillman, has both to spare. Tumford Stoutt, a roly-poly black and white cat who lives with his human parents on Sweet Apple Green, is no stranger to trouble. In rhyming, playful style Tumford burps, bangs, clangs, parades, and plays with his food, annoying everyone around him. This only makes him want more attention until he lands a time out. Will Tumford finally learn his lesson? All ages can relate to this tumultuous tale enjoying both the naughty and the nice parts. Readers will be charmed by the engaging photo-collage illustrations in bright primary colors, as well as Tumford’s delightfully expressive face and gestures. As usual, Tumford pushes the limits, but in the end no matter what Tumford does, he knows his parents love him unconditionally.
In rhyme and vibrant style, picture book readers were first introduced to that white-whiskered master of misbehavior in Tumford the Terrible. Bedecked in yellow galoshes and full of mischievous appeal, Tumford tries the patience of his parents and townspeople during the village fair but learns a valuable lesson – love and good manners matter - when he finally and sincerely says, “I’m sorry”. Tillman, who may be best known for her New York Times bestseller, On The Night You Were Born, has a collection of children’s picture books notable for their message and beautiful artwork, with Tumford tops among them.
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat and this year Santa gets some help from that crazy Pete the Cat! That’s right, the blue fun-loving feline is back in Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. At Santa’s request, Pete steps in when Santa falls ill with a chill. Pete begins his holiday adventure in typical cool-cat rhyming style - Pete jumped in his minibus and started to roll. “Road trip!” cried Pete. “First stop – the North Pole.” The vividly colored, abstract and energetic illustrations and zany, ear-catching story in rhyme have real kid-appeal. There’s added entertainment value with a free download of the complete story and accompanying song read by the author. Kids can listen or read along, and check out Pete’s reproducible booklet of Christmas activities like a holiday word scramble, connect the dots, and maze. Now that’s “totally groovy!”
Charlie and the Christmas Kitty is a sweet winter time treat for families. Written by Ree Drummond, New York Times bestselling author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and featuring her own Basset Hound, Charlie, this down-home story is simple and wholesome, much like her country cooking. As “King of the Ranch”, Charlie oversees the comings and goings of humans and animals on their country spread. Adorably floppy, with his long ears, wrinkly skin, slightly short legs, and penchant for bacon, Charlie settles down for a little shut-eye while the family is busy preparing for Christmas. Imagine his surprise the next day when a new creature is introduced to the mix. Is it a rabbit? No, it’s an unapproved Christmas kitten! Charlie tries his hardest to ignore the little fluff ball, but finally relents after the curious kitten follows him throughout the day. All’s well that ends well, until a snuggly, beribboned Basset pup shows up – not again! Diane deGroat, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author/illustrator of the best-selling picture book series featuring Gilbert the opossum, creates the appealing kid-friendly artwork using watercolor paint over digital art on hot press paper. Animal lovers and families will enjoy this book and can try Charlie’s Favorite Christmas Cookie recipe included at the back.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, hundreds of young people, led by library director Ismail Serageldin, joined hands around the world-famous Alexandria Library to protect it from damage by the marching crowds. Although much property was destroyed and many people died, the Library survived unscathed. Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya invest these dramatic events with emotion and suspense in their book Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.
The story is told from the point of view of a fictional librarian - at first caught up in the excitement of the march, then worried about the library, then proud of her countrymen for this act of love and peace. Roth's collage art is, as always, especially appealing to young people. Her naive, frontal compositions are constructed from brightly colored paper in a variety of textures: crinkled, fuzzy, fibrous, corrugated, and even iridescent. Protest signs in Arabic appear throughout the book, and though one page contains images of violence, in general the energy, scale, and potential havoc of the march is skillfully communicated by two-page spreads depicting large crowds.
The back pages of this book are especially informative: including the history of the ancient and the modern Library of Alexandria, a brief discussion of the Egyptian Revolution, translations of words on the protest signs, and, perhaps most importantly, photographs of the events described in the book. These pages use collage representations of quilt squares as a border, suggesting that the immense crowds that marched in Egypt were made of a kaleidoscope of unique individuals.
The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown, a new Shalom Sesame title by authors Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, is fun way to get into the holiday spirit. A childhood icon, the lovable purple Count has been counting with children for decades and now he and Grover, the shaggy blue monster, share the story of Hanukkah with them as well. Shalom Sesame, an international spinoff of Sesame Street, has been introducing Israel and Judaism to children and families for years through PBS, videos, and books. Parents and kids will recognize the familiar brightly colored characters by Tom Leigh, longtime children’s book illustrator of Sesame Street and Muppet books. Together, they prepare for this fun Festival of Lights featuring the special number eight – the perfect Hanukkah number – and traditions like exchanging gifts, playing the dreidel game, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and lighting the eight candles of the menorah, one for each of the eight nights. Kids and adults who share this book can count on having a totally awesome Hanukkah!
In Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, two parents’ cultural and holiday traditions combine to create a unique experience for one little girl and her family. Like the pop culture reference to the fictional “Chrismakkuh” (Christmas + Hanukkah), this happily blended holiday features the best of both traditions. The gently colored stylized illustrations are gouache, collage, and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper. They depict the quirky happy hipster family stuffing the Christmas turkey with cranberry kugel dressing, leaving latkes and milk for Santa, and decorating the Christmas tree with a shiny star and gelt (chocolate coins). They even use both candy canes and candles on the menorah. It’s a warm, loving story great for multicultural families and others who might like to create some new traditions of their own.
A painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.
Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.
While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.
Here are a few tips for surviving life with Mark Tatulli’s cartoon character Lio, who returns to library shelves in Lio: There’s a Monster In My Socks:
If there's a KEEP OUT sign on his door, don't try to vacuum in there.
You maybe should just concede the Science Fair to him.
And for goodness sake, don't give Lio a turn at Show and Tell.
Lio's decidedly unorthodox (and frequently disproportionate) responses to familiar school-age situations and pursuits are depicted in a scratchy black and white style with a distinct Gahan Wilson flavor. When flying kites with the other kids, Lio brings a dragon. When it's time to play football, Lio brews a Mr. Hyde potion that turns him into the ultimate linebacker. Some strips take a little effort to decode, which makes their punchline that much funnier.
Despite hearty helpings of grotesque slapstick violence, Lio is a goodhearted character with an active sense of justice, frequently victimizing bullies, sticking up for other kids, and championing the voiceless -such as prey animals, aliens, and monsters. Like Big Nate, Lio lives along with his patient, long-suffering schlub of a dad. Lio steals his garbage can to make a robot, the steaks from the fridge to feed the monsters under the floor, and routinely uses him as a test subject. Overjoyed at breakfast time to find a giant egg in the kitchen, he ends up with an alien stuck to his face. Lio's near-wordless, anarchic humor will appeal to teens and adults, not to mention a wide variety of kids - smart kids, kids who think they are weird, pranksters, and kids who sometimes get in trouble.