Peace, by artist Wendy Anderson Halperin is a visual and poetic meditation on the subject of peace. The book is dedicated to our senses, and that dedication sets the tone for the book – peace is real, and it can be sensed with our whole bodies and expressed with our words, actions, and thoughts. There is a very short text which can be read aloud, along with quotes from famous peacemakers spread throughout, and panels of illustrations depicting scenes of peace.
Halperin chooses quotes from people like Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and Anne Frank. I like that many of the quotes focused on the small ways we can work toward peace: “When people talk, listen completely” (Ernest Hemingway); and “Friendship is the only cure for hatred, the only guarantee of peace” (Buddha). The many illustrations, too, while wide in scope (they depict children and nature around the world), also depict small scenes of peace. Some of the images contrast to illustrate the concept. For example, one scene shows a grandmother washing dishes while her granddaughter lounges on the couch. A few pages later, we see the same grandmother washing the dishes with her granddaughter at her side helping her. Another scene depicts an elderly man boarding a bus as everyone continues to read their paper. Later on in the book, we see that a child has risen from his seat and offered it to the man. We also see children reading in tree houses, planting vegetables, sharing meals with their families, and quietly observing a heron.
The book is one to read and look at over and over again. It may spark discussions about kindness, friendship, stewardship of the earth, and about standing against all those things that destroy peace – like anger, apathy, ignorance, and jealousy. I can see this making a soothing bedtime book for all ages, and while it would be difficult to read the book aloud to a classroom (too many small details), it would make a good book for small groups to read and discuss in the classroom.
Posted by: Parry
“It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.”
One book that I always turn to in December is Trina Schart Hyman’s presentation of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful prose poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas’s almost achingly evocative descriptions of the Christmas of a small boy, sometime in the nebulous past, are perfectly matched by Hyman’s glorious illustrations, which show the boy’s eccentric, yet all-too-real relatives and friends.
No other story and no other illustrations have ever so perfectly captured the hilarity of holiday relatives, the conversations of little boys, and the feeling of world-wide silence after a snowfall. Undeniably the most perfect Christmas book ever.
Posted by: Sarah
It’s the season for spooky books, and for kids who want a scare, ONLY a spooky book will do. Some children, though, want their creepy books to be creepy with a difference–not just cheap scares and cliffhangers, but something atmospheric that draws a reader fully into the world of the book. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz is perfect for those readers. Schlitz takes us into the Gothic, foggy 150-years-ago world of Lizzie Rose and Parsifal, two children who work for Grisini, a not-at-all-nice puppeteer. When Grisini is hired to perform for the birthday party of rich Clara, a girl who seems to have everything (except siblings, all of whom have died), Lizzie Rose and Parsifal think their fortunes are looking up. Unfortunately, first Clara, and then Grisini disappear, and their lives take a turn for the desperate.
This book is beautifully, spookily written, with compelling characters and perfectly described settings. It won’t be for children who hate historical fiction, or anyone who wants a quick read, but for kids who want a long spooky night where they can enter another world, this is an excellent choice.
Posted by: Sarah
With Halloween fast approaching it is time to crank up the creepiness with a good ghost story. Mary Downing Hahn has been sending chills up the spines of young readers for decades, and she does not disappoint with All the Lovely Bad Ones.
Twelve year old Travis and his sister Corey love stirring up mischief, but when their pranks go too far and they are no longer welcome back at summer camp, their parents decide to send the children to stay with their grandmother for the summer instead. Shortly after arriving at their grandmother’s rural Vermont inn, Travis and Corey learn that the inn has a history of paranormal activity. Armed with this newfound knowledge, a little dime store face paint, and some not-too-shabby acting skills on the part of Corey, Travis and his sister decide to liven things up by haunting the inn themselves. Their seemingly harmless prank wakes more than the inn’s guests, however, and as mischievous spirits begin ransacking the inn and a malevolent presence lurks in the shadows, Travis and Corey are soon forced to face the consequences of their actions. Having woken the spirits from their rest, Travis and Corey must now help to settle them once again…this time for good.
Hahn wastes no time getting to the action and quickly hooks readers. She manages to maintain a pace that is energetic and suspenseful, making this a hard book to put down. The characters, both alive and dead, are dynamic and well developed. Hahn successfully blends mystery, suspense, historical fiction, and the supernatural to create this chilling tale that is perfect for brave young readers from 4th to 7th grade.
Posted by: Staci
Joy Wells loves Spooking. It is a dark and spooky town built on a hill and her parents bought a house there because they could get a great big house for the price of a little boxy house in the neighboring bright and modern Darlington. Joy inherited a book when the oldest resident of Spooking died and became fascinated with the author, E. A. Peugeot, and his frightening tales about the Bog Fiend. Joy believes that the bog fiend lives in the bog next to Spooking and is horrified that the good citizens of Darlington want to drain the bog and build a water park. While investigating the bog, Joy meets Madame Portia, the only bog resident.
For Halloween, Joy and her brother Byron go trick-or-treating at one of the most over-the-top houses in Darlington. The evening turns frightening when the smoke machine breaks, the rotting skeleton gets out of the coffin , and the school children panic! After rescuing her brother from the chaos, Joy takes him into the bog to visit Madame Portia in her submarine house on stilts. While there, the Bog Fiend attacks the house with hideous squealing howls and terrible destruction to the house.
This is a good book for a spooky read in October! Recommended for 4th through 6th grades. If you like it there are 2 more books in the series which is called “The Joy of Spooking.”
Posted by: Fran
Hard times have come to the Florida forest where Calpurnia lives with her mother, father, and her dog named Buggy-horse. There are no fish to catch, so the people are weak with hunger and unable to work. Calpurnia can feel the hard times, but she isn’t worried. She is a loved child who feels a kinship with the world, and this helps her to feel safe and brave. Determined to help end the hard times, she follows her nose to a secret river deep in the forest, abundant with catfish. On her return home, laden with fish, Calpurnia encounters several dangerous (and obviously hungry) animals; because she knows there is enough to go around, she shares her catch and stays free from harm. When she returns home with the fish, her parents are overjoyed. Her father is able to sell the fish, the people in the forest are strengthened and able to go out and find work, and the hard times turn to soft times.
This story is moving to me because it demonstrates the powers of imagination, faith, love, and wonder to overcome hardship. It is illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, with warm, deep, lyric paintings. Both the text and illustrations are evocative of a different time and place, but the simple fairy-tale-like structure makes it easily accessible and comfortably familiar. The Secret River is a longer picture book that would make a wonderful class or family read-aloud.
Posted by: Parry
Katie is having a gray day. So, inspired by a painting filled with colorful birds, she attempts to brighten up – first, she puts on her green hat, then her yellow tights, her blue shoes…and ultimately she paints her entire self in brightly colored patterns! This creates some fizzy magic which transforms Katie into a colorful bird herself, and allows her to enter the painting and spend the day hanging out with the birds before returning home for her bath.
This sweet, whimsical story is a celebration of the imagination and its transformative power. The text is minimal, the real star being the fanciful illustrations which transform right along with Katie, starting out soft and gray and small before expanding and exploding with color. Flyaway Katie, published in 2000, was the debut picture book by author and illustrator Polly Dunbar, and is one of my favorites. Recommended for ages 2 and up.
Posted by: Parry
Poor Nini! She is confronted with a chaos of shoes and boots and hats and books and coat and suitcases. This can only mean one thing: her people are going away without her!
Even worse is when Nini is put into a Big Black Thing, where she has to stay for so long that she falls asleep and dreams of clouds . . . the ocean . . . the desert . . . until she wakes up: where?
I have a cat myself, and I always wonder what she’s thinking about when we do leave her all alone, and when she’s put into her cat carrier. Anita Lobel’s captivating illustrations of Nini’s journey drive this little story, but it’s her understanding of her own cat (also named Nini, and on whom the character is based) that makes the book feel so real and true. Nini herself is so charming (without being anthropomorphized), that the reader will be completely drawn into her small-scale world.
For more of the endearing Nini, check out Lobel’s other books about her: Nini Lost and Found, and One Lighthouse, One Moon.
Posted by: Sarah
It is very difficult to write a review of a book you love. For books you merely like it is easy to list all the good points and wrap up the review with a pithy phrase. For a book you love, you find yourself jumping up and down and saying “It’s great!!!” and shoving copies of it at people. This does not work when you are writing an online review.
Solveig is the king’s younger daughter. Her older sister is beautiful and her younger brother is the heir. Solveig thinks she has nothing to give or to be, but when she and her siblings and retainers are sent into hiding at a protected fjord while her father fights a war, everything changes. Solveig’s perception of the familiy’s warriors, servants, and even her sister slip in the face of the devastatingly hard winter they go through, and in the process she learns something about herself — though this discovery does not play out in the way the reader is expecting.
Kirby’s prose is beautiful, and fully evokes the Norse culture and cold winter setting. His retellings of myths are skillfully woven into the narrative and never seem like afterthoughts, or take the reader out of Solveig’s story.
Give this book to any child who liked Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud, or who is fascinated by Norse myths — they’ll find it just as stirring as I did.
Posted by: Sarah
When Flory’s wings are crushed in an accident, she is separated from the rest of the night fairies and stranded in the garden of a human (“a giantess”). She is still young and only as tall as an acorn, and now she must learn to survive on her own. She defends herself, makes clothes out of cherry blossom petals, finds an ally in the greedy but lovable squirrel, and embarks on a dangerous journey to save a hummingbird. It’s ultimately a story about making a home for yourself in your own little corner of the world, even if you were born a night fairy and didn’t really plan on living in a bird house with a squirrel for your best friend.
This slim book is a wonderful read, full of charming details, vivid imagery, friendship, and plenty of adventure. While it will, of course, appeal to children who love fairy books, I think it will also appeal to young readers who enjoy animal stories and outdoor adventure stories. As it’s so pretty, with illustrations by Angela Barrett and deep blue endpapers that are just a little bit sparkly, The Night Fairy would make a beautiful gift. It would also make a great family read-aloud; I can definitely see snuggling under the covers with this one.
Posted by: Parry