It seems like every year at this time, I assert once again that winter is the best time for slightly creepy stories — it’s cold outside, and we all like to huddle by the fire (or the radiator), feeling cozy and protected. A spooky mystery can add to that feeling of coziness — weird things are happening out THERE, but in HERE I’m nice and warm.
Greenglass House takes place right before a freezing cold, snowy Christmas. Milo is happy to have his loving innkeeper parents to himself for once, and planning to laze about over the school break. Unexpectedly, and at a time of year when this NEVER happens, the inn fills up with guests. And not just any guests: shifty guests. Shady guests. Guests who seem to be hiding something (or who are just plain unpleasant). It’s an open secret that Milo’s parents’ inn is friendly to smugglers, but do the guests know that? Is that why they’re there at such an odd time? Can anyone be trusted? And that’s before the mysterious thefts start, or the electricity fails due to sabotage Not to mention the ice storm! Milo’s parents and the cook are run off their feet, and Milo is either ignored or needed to help out. So much for Christmas!
Luckily for Milo, the cook’s younger daughter, Meddy, hitched a ride with her mom, so he has someone to talk to. She introduces him to the role-playing game Odd Trails, one that his father used to play when he was Milo’s age. Milo’s game character is braver (and tricksier!) than Milo himself, and their games are a great cover for an investigation into the thefts and sabotage. Do the guests have anything to do with the most famous historical owner of the house? What do they really want? And what significance is there in the guest that arrives on Christmas Eve itself?
Greenglass House is one of the best books I’ve read all year—it was enthralling, amusing, and emotionally affecting, with stellar, atmospheric prose. I’ve been able to recommend it to both adults and children, and everyone who has read it has loved it. If you love Greenglass House as much as I did, check out any of Kate Milford’s other books. None of them are as cold and wintery, but we have them all here at the library, and they’re all truly wonderful.
Posted by: Sarah
In the 2005 book Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, Stillwater the giant panda moves next door to siblings Abby, Michael, and Karl. Stillwater becomes their friend – he plays with them, talks with them, lets them climb on him, and tells them stories that relate to their lives. The stories Stillwater tells are simple stories rooted in the Zen Buddhist tradition. In the book Zen Ghosts, it is Halloween, and Stillwater is helping the children decide what costumes to wear. He invites the children to meet him for a ghost story after they go trick-or-treating, and the story he tells is eerie and mysterious, yet gentle (and not exactly scary). Afterward, there is swapping of candy and quiet enjoyment of the moonlit Halloween night.
Muth uses watercolors to illustrate scenes of the children and Stillwater, and brush and ink to illustrate Stillwater’s ghost story. The watercolors capture the beautiful colors of autumn, and there are a couple of wonderful wordless spreads – one being an evocative picture of all the costumed trick-or-treaters out on the darkened neighborhood street that readers will pore over. In the author’s note, Muth explains that the ghost story Stillwater tells is a koan, a kind of story that is a paradox to be meditated on, from the Zen Buddhist tradition. As Muth writes, “They appeal directly to the intuitive part of the human consciousness, not to the intellect.” Zen Ghosts is gentle and philosophical (though more playful than ponderous), and a wonderful Halloween read aloud for kids in grade K and up (it would make an especially good match for older kids).
Books featuring Stillwater the panda include Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts (and you can meet Stillwater’s nephew Koo again in Hi, Koo!).
Posted by: Parry
As the daughter of a Jamaican father and a Mexican mother growing up in the middle of Iowa, Jewel’s life was never going to be the easiest. However, the fact that Jewel was born on the same day that her brother, Bird, died didn’t really help. Jewel’s grandfather stopped speaking after the tragedy and the rest of the family never fully recovered. Silence and avoidance permeate Jewel’s household as she constantly struggles to step out of her brother’s shadow. Then, one night in her favorite climbing tree Jewel meets a strange boy named John (Bird’s real name), and very quickly things begin to change. Is John a “duppy” – a Jamaican spirit the likes of which Jewel’s father and grandfather blame for the death of Bird? Or is he just a boy trying to find his own place in the world. Regardless of whether his appearance is merely coincidental or the work of stronger forces, John’s presence in the lives of Jewel and her family might be just the thing this family needs to break free of the pain of loss and silence.
Bird is a touching and intelligent look inside the life of a very special girl who has been overlooked for years. Although the story is told from Jewel’s point of view, Chan does a wonderful job of developing all of the important characters in Jewel’s life. We are even able to piece together a picture of Bird, the brother she never met, through the stories and bits and pieces that Jewel has collected over the years. In the audiobook Amandla Stenberg (you may recognize her as Rue from the movie The Hunger Games) provides the perfect voice for Chan’s Jewel. Stenberg’s delivery is bright and sweet and thoughtful while still maintaining an authentic childlike tone. As the story is told from the point of view of Jewel, Stenberg’s minimalist style of character variation works well here. It is clear that when the characters are speaking, we are hearing them as Jewel hears them. Whether reading the print version or listening to the audiobook, readers are sure to form an instant bond with this big-hearted little girl as she tries to come to terms with her family’s demons and make the most of her situation.
Look here for a short video about the story behind Bird.
Posted by: Staci
In the Children’s area we have a special section of picture books called K-3rd. This section contains books that would be great read alouds for children in Kindergarten through grade 3; especially in a large group like a classroom. Occasionally, we also have picture books that are more suitable for older children due to themes, complex language, or that do not work well as read alouds for a large group. Because there are not many books like this in the picture book collection, we do not have a designated area for them and they are shelved alphabetically with all of the other picture books. These books are often high quality literary works that deserve attention, but do not always find an audience because most people only look for picture books for young children. We recently acquired a book like this called A Lion in Paris that I hope does not get overlooked. This oversized picture book that reads vertically like a calendar rather than horizontally tells the story of a lion who is bored with life in the grasslands so he sets off to find “a job, love, and a future” in Paris. Through short sentences and expressive mixed media illustrations, Alemagna manages to paint a picture of a very despondent lion, a beautiful, yet aloof city and how to find your place in the world wherever you may be. The lion visits several famous Parisian landmarks including the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa smile at him, Monmontre where he helps an older woman down the many steps and the River Seine to look at his reflection. The lion goes from being stranger in Paris to loving the city so much that he decides to stay there permanently and becomes the famous lion statue at the Place Denfer-Rochereau. This book would be perfect to share with a child interested in Paris or planning a trip there, a child struggling to fit in, or anyone looking for something a little different in terms of format or storyline.
Posted by: Kelly
Some books are special. They have a plot description that sounds like many another book (girl finds herself in a fantastical situation and discovers that she must save the world), but are written in such a otherwordly, atmospheric way that even the adjectives that one might use to describe them aren’t magical enough.
Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard finds herself in a foreign city. Her father is an international expert on swords, and has been called upon to organize a gala Christmas Eve exhibition at the city’s museum. Miss Kaminski, the museum director, is very beautiful, but cold and strange, and Ophelia feels uneasy. She spends her days exploring the museum — from Culture of the Cossacks to Mesopotamian Mysteries and everything (everything) in between. In one room, though, she finds a door. That door hides a boy — a marvelous boy — who says that he has been imprisoned by the Snow Queen, and that he’s waiting for the One Other who will be able to use his sword to defeat her. He needs Ophelia to free him — an act much more complicated than just finding the key to the door.
Foxlee’s book is spellbinding; the world she creates is so compelling that I could see every detail, and what is more, believe every detail. I could see the frozen city, feel the cold in my bones, and believe in the uncanny museum, where wolves might roam the dollhouse exhibit.
Any reader would be enchanted to discover this wonderful book, and many of them might find themselves exploring the museum map on the endpapers. For all the eeriness of the museum, I would like to visit and wander its Gallery of Time, among others. Who knows what I might discover?
Posted by: Sarah
Siena is not your typical 13-year-old. In fact, her differences are part of the reason that her family is moving from Brooklyn, New York, to a small coastal town in Maine. The other reason is that her three-year-old brother, Lucca, has not spoken in over a year. While Siena and Lucca’s parents are not sure what makes it so hard for Siena to make friends and Lucca to talk, they are hoping the new environment will help them both. Siena is eager to try to start over, but when the family arrives in Maine, the very thing that makes her odd kicks into overdrive. Sometimes, Siena can see the past. Generally, it only happens while she is dreaming, but increasingly she was getting glimpses of the past while awake in things like buildings that are no longer standing in New York or people in out of date clothing. The home the family purchased is right out of one of Siena’s dreams. She is familiar with the layout and can feel what has happened in this house before the family lived there. However, Siena decides this familiarity could be positive and decides to make a go of it in Maine even making some friends before school starts. Lucca loves the beach and the play group his mother found, but he still is not talking. When Siena finds a pen that belonged to one of the previous owners, the story of what happened in the house is reveled, complete with a young girl who also struggles with mutism and Siena begins to wonder if the family’s move really was the best thing for Lucca after all.
This title has historical elements as Siena becomes involved in the lives of the family that lived in the house prior to her family, including a brother entrenched in the World War II battle fields. It also blends modern day realism and supernatural elements in a thoughtful and suspenseful manner. Children who enjoy descriptive text, supernatural stories and historical fiction will enjoy this title.
Posted by: Kelly
It started as a family Christmas card photo by photographer Per Breiehagen and his wife Lori Evert. In 2007, the Minnesota resident’s family dressed their adorable three year-old daughter Anja in traditional Norwegian clothing such as Stakk dress from Ål, where Breiehagen was raised, reindeer shoes from the Sami people in Northern Norway, and an elf hat and took a series of photos that would change their lives forever. Based on overwhelming positive feedback from friends and family who received the Christmas card, Breiehagen expanded the project. His vision was to stage scenes the evoked the traditional folklore of Norway that he had grown up listening to. In addition to Anja’s captivating costume, Breiehagen attempted to make the photos as authentic as possible. He took Anja to beautiful outdoor winter landscapes in both Minnesota and Norway. Anja posed with actual reindeer in Norway and held traditional Telemark skis from 1840 the Breiehagen had sought out to use as photo props. As the scope of the photos became more fantastic, Breiehagen incorporated digital compositing to create scenes of the “little elf” meeting a polar bear in Antarctica and other fanciful imagery that could not be created without digital enhancements. The photos continued to gain popularity and were featured in several holiday advertisement campaigns, including one for Chicco, a popular baby product brand.
The photos took on a new life this year when Breiehagen and Evert created the picture book, The Christmas Wish. The book tells the story of a little girl who lives “in a place so far north that the mothers never pack away the wool hats or mittens.” The girl longs to be one of Santa’s elves. One day, she sets out on a journey through the great Northern wild to find Santa. Along the way she is helped by several animals including a cardinal, reindeer, polar bear, horse and musk ox. She also has a chance to see the Northern Lights. Eventually, she does find the man in the red suit and he flies her home on his sleigh. The true charm and magic of this book are the stunning photographs. Some of my favorites include one of Anja placing a note on the door of the Norwegian Sauna announcing her departure to find Santa, the three year old girl curled up next to a polar bear napping, and Santa’s sleigh flying over snow covered hills taking Anja home. With careful staging and digital enhancement, the winter scenes are stunning, the animals are beautiful and the young girl in the traditional Norwegian garb is irresistibly cute. This story is one that is sure to captivate the imagination of children this holiday season and leave parents a bit awe struck as well.
Posted by: Kelly