Arbor Day Square
Kathryn Osebold Galbraith
The small prairie town was growing as more people arrived each day. It had a school, a church and shops, but “no trees for climbing or shade, no trees for fruit or birds or beauty.” A variety of fifteen trees were sent for, but when the small saplings finally arrived, they seemed too little for young Katie. Her father assured her that they would grow. The trees were carefully planted near the church and in the schoolyard. In a quiet corner of the town square, Katie and her Pa planted a dogwood in memory of Mama. When all the trees were planted, the townsfolk picnicked and danced under the stars. Katie suggested they do it “again next year.” They did–and we do every year, too. Each Arbor Day in this country and many countries of the world, trees are celebrated for the joy they bring kids climbing them, the shade they provide, the fruit they bear, the birds they shelter, and their beauty. The origin of Arbor Day is simply told in this charming story. Warm colored pencil-and-watercolor illustrations evoke a simpler time, bringing to life a small prairie town and its growth into a thriving community of close friends. The final spread shows those now-mature trees still providing shade and beauty today. Katie’s youthful enthusiasm for the project and her initial skepticism at the diminutive size of the trees rings true. The quiet moment she and her Pa share planting a memorial tree could serve as a discussion starter about the hardships of prairie life. This is a fine addition for units about Arbor Day as well as those about Westward Expansion. 2010, Peachtree Publishers, Ages 5 to 10, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).
Auntie Yang’s Soybean Picnic
Illustrations by Beth Lo
While out for a drive on a family visit, the Yangs and the Los stumble across a field of soybeans, something the adults had never before seen in the United States and the children had never before seen at all. An affable farmer agrees to let them pick some, and later that day the two families sit down to piles of salty boiled soybeans in the pod: “That was our family’s first soybean picnic.” Over the next forty years, the tradition continues and grows, as newly arrived Chinese immigrant families are invited along and new generations are born; by the end, nearly two hundred people attend Auntie Yang’s annual event. The story, based on the Lo family’s own history, is lengthy, but it rings with the authenticity of a beloved family tale, and the dialogue is homey and familiar; the story’s trajectory from soybean encounter to pleasant picnic pastime to huge event is narratively satisfying, and the underlying message of food as a way of connecting families is subtle yet matter-of-fact. Beth Lo, a ceramic artist, provides the unique art, in which ceramic plates are painted with images from the story and then photographed. The effect is a little static, the layouts are identical throughout, and the eye is drawn to the object as much as to the scenes depicted on it; the colors are cheerful and the details abundant in the scenes, though, and listeners will likely want a closer look when storytime is through. A detailed author’s note provides further information about Auntie Yang as well as some facts about soybeans. A brief glossary is also included. Review Code: R — Recommended. 2012, Lee & Low, Ages 7-9 yrs, $18.95.
REVIEWER: Hope Morrison (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Anne Warren Smith
The last day of fourth grade is just awful for Katie. She is losing her favorite teacher Ms. Morgan, her best friend is going away for a few weeks, and, now, her father says they may have to move to Oregon. When she thinks that things cannot become worse, she learns that her friend Claire is planning to set Ms. Morgan up with her father. Katie’s parents are divorced and her mom is always travelling with her band, so Katie would like Ms. Morgan for a mother as well. Katie and her younger brother Tyler begin their summer vacation preparing their house to be sold by giving stuff away–not a great way to start summer. However, the summer is full of surprises. Katie’s dad and brother join Claire, her father, and Ms. Morgan for a hike and picnic, leading to a cookout at Ms. Morgan’s house where a mysterious man is a guest. Katie’s mother comes to Portland for a concert and Ms. Morgan and Claire join Katie’s family. Seeing how happy her mom is, Katie realizes in spite of Tyler’s hopes she will not come home. Surprisingly, Katie learns that Ms. Morgan has matchmaking ideas of her own. She decides this summer might not be so bad after all. 2012, Albert Whitman & Company, , Ages 9 to 12, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Shirley Nelson (Children’s Literature).
Captain Small Pig
Illustrated by Susan Varley
When Turkey and Old Goat take Small Pig out for a ride in a rowboat, Small Pig insists on milking the experience for all its worth. He wants to row (he rows the boat in circles) and fish for whales (he catches an old boot, which is almost as good), and finally he gets tired of rowing and takes a nap. Throughout the day Old Goat encourages Small Pig and applauds his efforts, while Turkey worries that things will go wrong and they do: Turkey ends up overboard. This gently humorous tale, illustrated with spritely pen-and-ink paintings, echoes the realities of children who live with two adults, each with opposite views of life. 2010, Peachtree, Ages 3-5, $15.95.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2011).
Far From Shore: A Naturalist Explores the Deep Ocean
Readers accompany field biologist and ornithologist Sophie Webb on a NOAA Pacific Ocean voyage in this NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book. From San Diego to Peru, they share in her observations of not only birds but dolphins, whales, and bioluminescent plankton as she details populations and habitats. This personalized story of the practices and pleasures of scientific discovery will attract readers from elementary through high school. The lure of the sea and the fascinating observations along the voyage will inspire not only more research on the organisms Webb encounters, but many dreams of scientific careers. There’s an appreciation of the natural world interwoven throughout the narrative that’s infectious even for those who don’t think of themselves as scientists. Detailed drawings support the text. A glossary and index also help make the book accessible to many levels of readers. This book is most appropriate for personal reading, but excerpts from the text could be used to enrich a classroom lesson on oceanography. 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 11, $17.99.
REVIEWER: CBC Reviewer (National Science Teachers Association).
The Girl Who Could Fly
The Institute of Normalcy, Stability and Non-Exceptionality, aka I.N.S.A.N.E., seems initially to be a haven for Piper McCloud when she develops the ability to fly, which makes her an outsider in her small community. Life in the concrete underground bunker is initially fairly pleasant, but soon Piper and her fellow inmates discover the real purpose of their stay there: Dr. Letitia Hellion, champion of all that is normal and unremarkable, is prepared to go to any length necessary in order to wipe out any traces of the rare or unusual in plants, animals, or humans. Since the children are each remarkably gifted in addition to Piper’s airworthiness, there’s Smitty’s X-ray vision, Daisy’s superhuman strength, Myrtle’s speedy feet, and Conrad’s peerless genius they’re in serious danger; after an attempted breakout is foiled and Piper, a favorite among the group, returns from several months’ absence crippled in mind and body, the kids decide to fight back. Forester grounds this domestically rooted fantasy in a downhome and folksy world populated with characters named Sally Sue, Millie Mae and Rory Rae, but it’s effectively straightforward in conveying the menace of the facility and its mission. This is a strong adventure story, with a few dark moments that illustrate the consequences of evil, made all the more appealing by the opportunity for smart kids to overcome wrong-thinking adults Review Code: R — Recommended. 2008, Feiwel, Grades 5-7, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Cindy Welch (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Illustrations by Adam Gustavson
Hannah’s is the only Jewish family in a small Minnesota prairie town early in the twentieth century. She hasn’t lived there long, and as the time for a Saturday class picnic draws near she wants badly to go, but her Orthodox faith forbids her riding in a car on Saturdays. Embarrassed to explain the truth to anyone, Hannah gets permission from her parents to walk the two miles to the picnic but only if she can find someone to walk with her. Hannah finally confides in her teacher, who explains to the class that Hannah needs a companion. The response is more than Hannah hoped for when everyone volunteers. An author’s note tells how a historical basis for Hannah’s story of friendship and support was found in an exhibit about Jewish women in the Upper Midwest at the Minnesota History Center. 2012, Kar-Ben, Ages 5-9, $17.95.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2013).
Holy Guacamole! And Other Scrumptious Snacks
Illustrated by Rick Peterson
Part of the thoroughly kid-friendly ‘Kids Dish’ series of cookbooks for children from Picture Window Books, “Holy Guacamole! And Other Scrumptious Snacks” is a picturebook style compilation of do-it-yourself recipes for children ages 6 to 8 and in grades 1 to 3.compiled by Nick Fouchald and illustrated by Rick Peterson. The recipes are organized into three sections: Easy; Intermediate; and Advanced. They range from Pineapple Popsicles; Quick Energy Trail Mix; and Mini Pepperoni Pizzas; to Chili Cheese Popcorn; Yogurt Fruit Kabobs; and Gooey Granola Bars. Featuring ‘Notes to Kids and Parents’, ‘MyPyramid’, Special Tips and Glossary, Conversion Chart, and Kitchen Tools information, “Holy Guacamole! And Other Scrumptious Snacks” is an excellent resource for teaching children kitchen safety, nutrition, and the joy of cooking. Of special note is the FactHouse website relating to the topics covered along with the recipes. Also very highly recommended for family and community library cookbook collections for children are the other titles in this outstanding ‘Kids Dish’ series: “Chocolate Chill-Out Cake And Other Yummy Desserts (9781404839977); “Indoor S’mores And Other Tasty Treats For Special Occasions” (9781404840003); “Keep On Rollin’ Meatballs And Other Delicious Dinners” (9781404839984, $18.95); “Puffy Popovers And Other Get-Out-Of-Bed Breakfasts” (9781404839960); and “Walk-Around Tacos And Other Likeable Lunches” (9781404839991). Although each of these highly prized titles are available individually (List $25.26 / Library $18.95), homeschoolers, elementary schools, and community libraries would be well advised to acquire the entire series. 2008, Picture Window Books, ages 6-8, $18.95.
REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch).
I Love Bugs!
A small boy with curly hair and a striped T-shirt sings an extended love song to insects, arachnids, arthropods, and more (“I love springy jumpy leapy bugs and slimy crawly creepy bugs”). The boy and the insects are shown closeup, outlined in expressive black ink, their surroundings rendered as flat, graphic greenery. Googly-eyed grasshoppers cavort through grass the boy parts with his hands to reveal slugs and caterpillars crawling across the soil. When his picnic is invaded by wasps who land on his jam sandwich, the boy says he likes them, too: “I love brightly-colored wing bugs and stripy swipey sting bugs.” Most are common species, and young insect fans will be able to name them. But Dodd (Dog’s Colorful Day) is less interested in identification than in celebration. Well-meaning parents may offer this to a child who’s ambivalent toward creepy-crawlies, and it would be a good choice; the friendly, slightly anxious looks on the faces of several bugs make it clear that they’re nervous, too. But it’s young enthusiasts who will like it most. 2010, Holiday House, Ages 3–5,$16.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
No Mush Today
Nonie has had it with her family–a squalling baby brother and mush for breakfast again. It is just too much. She goes next door to live with Grandma. Grandma listens when Nonie is talking, and she does not serve mush! Her wise grandmother just nods and takes her hand as they walk to church together. Nonie stays solemn and does not smile when Daddy passes the collection plate, but perks up when she hears about the church picnic that afternoon. After eating, Grandma just wants to rest her bones on a bench, but Daddy is ready for a boat ride and time on the swings. By the end of the afternoon, Nonie knows where she belongs. She goes home where her smiling momma and her baby brother greet her. Softly colored pastel illustrations depict a loving African-American family. This book would be a good choice for sharing with children experiencing the arrival of new siblings in their families. 2008, Lee & Low Books Inc, Ages 6 to 10, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook For Preschoolers & Up
Katzen excels again as the preschool set’s and their parents’ favorite cooking guru. Practical recipes written for adults and drawn for children present a delightful activity for any time of the day or year. It is never too early to teach the importance of nutrition and food presentation. As the subtitle suggests, this is for anyone beyond the teething stage and can easily be incorporated into a classroom setting from nursery school and beyond. Twenty recipes are presented–first in text version for caregivers, then pictorially for even the youngest cooks–to show progression, if nothing else. Each step is shown chronologically with minimal text. Each recipe is preceded by the “Critics Rave,” featuring accolades from real preschoolers during the assembling process and tasting. Helpful hints are sprinkled throughout the recipes, such as suggesting it is easier for children to push blender buttons with their thumbs; to properly flour their hands, instruct them to “wash their hands” with flour–great tips for everyone, not just the kids. This is one of those books that has the potential to create memories that can be passed through the generations, yet can be cozy enough just for the two of you. 2005, Tricycle Press, Ages 4 to 8, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Elizabeth Young (Children’s Literature).
Sam and the Big Kids
Emily Arnold McCully
What child hasn’t felt the sting of being told to “get lost” by an older kid? In this I Like To Read book, that’s the cross borne by bear cub Sam. “You are too small…. Go home,” he hears over and over again as he follows his big sister and her friend through the forest. When the older bears get into some mild trouble, however—they’re stranded on an island when their rowboat floats away—they turn to unwanted tagalong Sam: “The big kids called, ‘Sammy! Sammy! Go get Mom!’ ” Readers will appreciate the impressive geographic features of McCully’s (The Helpful Puppy) ink-and-watercolor renderings, and her approach to emotions, while understated, never fails to convey the older kids’ casual cruelty and the impressiveness of Sam’s leap into action. What’s more, the author’s willingness to avoid a hugging-learning moment in the wrap-up feels downright brave: Mom rows everyone home, the two older kids remain engaged with one another, and Sam, sitting behind his mother, is focused on feeding a fish. In short, life goes on. Ages 4–8. 2013, Holiday House, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Illustrated by Dave McKean
When young Blue Baker’s dad suddenly dies, his school counselor suggests he write down his thoughts and feelings in a notebook to explore his grief. Instead, Blue starts writing stories about “The Savage,” a wild boy who lives in the woods near his home. As Blue’s Savage stories fill his notebooks, he begins dealing with his frustrations with a school bully by making the Savage encounter the bully in a story and beat him. But when Blue sees the bully with wounds identical to the ones he described in his tale, he begins to wonder–are his stories truly fictional or has he tapped into something much more mysterious and powerful? David Almond weaves an eerie yet uplifting story about cathartic rage that is enhanced by Dave McKean’s moody sketches of the Savage. A true page turner, The Savage will strike a chord with anyone who has ever wanted to vent their frustrations on the world. 2008, Candlewick Press, Ages 10 to 14, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Michael Jung (Children’s Literature).
Scare A Bear
Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello
From the team behind Moose on the Loose comes another story about a renegade forest animal. Five friends at a campground notice a sign on a tree that reads, “Do you know how to scare a bear?” and discover the answera “noa “when one shows up. Though his goofy, overgrown appearance isn’t especially threatening (by book’s end, he’s wearing a red baseball cap), he’s just naturalistic enough to be unsettling, especially when he goes snout-to-nose with a redheaded girl in pigtails. Becoming a furry nuisance, the bear joins them in their rowboat (“What if that bear wants to fish from your boat?/ Do you think he would fit?/ Would you tell him to sit?”), sits down at a picnic table for dinner, and even joins in a sleepover, taking a belly flop onto a top bunk. In the end, though, the kids discover that it’s pretty simple to scare a bear with a single word, “Boo!” The attention and detail Bendall-Brunello lavishes on the bear doesn’t carry over to the kids he antagonizes, but the fish-out-of-water slapstick should get some chuckles. 2010, Sleeping Bear Press, Ages 4 to 8, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Sukkot Treasure Hunt
Photographs by Eliyahu Alpern
Those familiar with Ofanansky’s Harvest of Light (BCCB 9/08) know that the young Israeli girl Aravah and her parents, returning here in this title, take a DIY approach to the Jewish holidays. Not content with market offerings for the harvest feast of Sukkot, they take a family hike through the region around their home to find the “four species” of plants that will make up the lulav that they will wave each morning. Aravah is first misled by a bay leaf tree but then finds the needed aromatic myrtle not far off; in the valley by a creek they score willow branches, and after a picnic lunch and a wade in the creek, a date palm frond is secured. That leaves the more elusive etrog, a large lemon-like fruit that threatens to best Aravah on her hunt, but back in town they run into a school chum who has an etrog tree in his yard, which solves the dilemma. Aravah is an engaging hostess for what one hopes is a developing series, and Alpern’s informal photographs not only chronicle the treasure hunt itself but also introduce American children to the landscape and inhabitants of the hill region of Galilee. Families who aren’t perhaps quite as ambitious as Aravah’s will enjoy the details of sukkah construction and the culminating feast celebrated therein. A glossary and brief note on Sukkot are included . 2009, Kar-Ben, Grades 2-5, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Drummond (Liberty!) presents a lively, child-friendly cost-benefit analysis of the automobile with a book commemorating the 100th birthday of Henry Ford’s Model T. The narrator, nicknamed Lizzie by her grandfather, loves wheels, from her baby carriage to her grandfather’s lovingly restored Tin Lizzie. Piling in with her three younger brothers, Lizzie finally gets a spin in the car that popularized automobile travel. As they sit in traffic, however, Lizzie asks, “Grandpa, why are\n there so many cars?” and so begins an affable debate. Grandpa sees cars as a symbol of progress; Lizzie enumerates their drawbacks. Cartoon-style vignettes of vehicles (and traffic jams) zip horizontally across these spreads, keeping the visuals in tune with the brisk dialogue and warding off the didacticism that creeps in, especially when Lizzie is talking. An afterword challenges readers to ponder for themselves the consequences of our culture’s obsession with cars. 2008, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 5–8, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
The State of Maine is threatening to close Tess’s school, saying “we don’t have enough kids to keep it open.” If that happens, Tess and her family will be forced to leave their island community and move to the mainland. But the islanders have a plan. Together, the families will volunteer to take in enough foster children to keep their school open. Tess is thrilled to have a foster brother. But Aaron is not exactly what she expects. Nothing about island life pleases this boy! Fortunately, as the days pass, Aaron slowly adapts to his new life. He plays his trumpet at the 4th of July picnic and agrees to sign up for the talent show. There is just one thing he wants–that his mother be there to see him play. Impulsive Tess takes matters into her own hands, secretly writing to Aaron’s mother to tell her when and where the talent show will be. Unfortunately, any contact between Aaron and his mother is to be supervised by the social worker. Has Tess’s reckless action jeopardized Aaron’s placement with her family? This warm and engaging story is told by a most talkative girl (“Can’t you shut up for one minute?”) who introduces Aaron and the readers to her life on Bethsaida. This story is based on the author’s experience as a teacher on an island off the coast of Maine and by an island community that took in foster children to keep their school open. 2010, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Ages 9 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Anita Barnes Lowen (Children’s Literature).
Trout Are Made of Trees
April Pulley Sayre
Illustrated by Kate Endle
This book presents a delightful spin on a concept almost all teachers cover–the food chain. A stream is used as the backdrop for the discussion. First, the producers (leaves) are introduced. Next, the author introduces the primary consumers, typical macroinvertebrates found in streams (crane flies and caddisflies). As the story develops, secondary consumers and a top predator (a trout) round out the creatures found in the stream food chain. The key idea, that energy is transferred at each level in the food chain, is described in a manner appropriate for beginners. The book is written for a K-2 audience and would work best if the teacher read the story aloud to students, stopping to reinforce concepts and vocabulary while reading. The illustrations are colorful and multicultural. The book is appended with some other useful resources, such as a description of the trout life cycle, tips for keeping our waterways clean, and a list of print and internet sources of more information. The book is aligned with the National Science Education Standards (Content Standard C: Life Science) and would be an excellent addition to a primary teacher’s classroom library. This book is truly a delight, and the author is commended for presenting a complex topic at a level appropriate for young students. Grades K-2. 2008, Charlesbridge Publishing, 32p, $15.95. Ages 5 to 8.
REVIEWER: Sarah Haines (National Science Teachers Association).
Artwork by Susan Tooke
Drawn into the book – and back again and again into the narrative – by the words ‘I remember ‘, the reader (and listener) travels to the east coast of Canada, into the heart of vibrant community life. Reliving childhood summers spent in North Preston, Nova Scotia, Grant conveys sultry days spent participating in rituals of church services and family gatherings, hearing stories of local history at Nana’s knee, and exploring the countryside. Celebratory in nature, lyrical in both its graphic and written execution, this book evocatively depicts the closeness and interdependence of family and neighbours, and conveys the close ties of the Black community, which has a strong and enduring history in this area. This book begs to be read aloud – to a small child on a parent’s lap, or to a class of children exploring the themes of family and community. But independent readers will also find lots to enjoy in the book’s rich illustrations and rhythmic language. The book’s back matter includes a brief but useful overview of the history of Blacks presence in the Preston Townships, from the 1780s to the present. Category: Fiction Grades K-2. Thematic Links: Nova Scotia; Black History in Canada; Family; Summer; Community. Resource Links Rating: G (Good, great at times, generally useful!), Gr. Preschool – 3. 2008, Ages 2 to 9, $19.95.
REVIEWER: Lois Peterson (Resource Links).