Wish, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2015 by Disney Hyperion
As if I needed one more reason to love Matthew Cordell.
I thought hello! hello! was enough to seal my undying admiration, but now he brings us this — this beautiful, heartfelt expression of deep longing and unbridled joy that touches on such a tender subject —
–waiting for a child.
Cordell can only capture that flutter of hopefulness and anticipation, that surge of expectancy, and then the horizonless sense of unfulfilled longing, the carrying on in heartsore, yet loving camaraderie and the seismic tidal wave of wonder and joy that comes when a long-awaited child has arrived, because he is writing from experience.
His ability to translate this emotional roller coaster into an honest, yet sunny, picture book is brilliant.
Its nursery-colored, pastel confetti, pleasing tiny elephants, gallons of white space, and minimal text keep it light enough to share with beloved children, ages 2 and up. Yet the emotional journey is there for parents and grandparents to treasure; maybe cry about even.
I think it would make a thoughtful gift for someone who, as Cordell says in his dedication, “knows, has known, or will know the joy that follows the difficulties that come when we wish.”
If you know someone like that, or are someone like that, then take a peek at this lovely book.
And if you’ve somehow missed hello! hello!, do check it out!
Posted in fiction, picture books | Tagged adoption, babies, book reviews, childlessness, children's literature, family, infertility, matthew cordell, parenthood, picture books, pregnancy | Leave a Comment »
My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp
pubished in 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Here is a book that made me laugh out loud one minute, then swung about and deftly delivered heartache the next.
It’s a book coated in an outer shell of boisterous, eye-rolling humor, yet beneath that tough exterior lie profound yearnings and insecurities.
And it takes place in the 1890s, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not many Yoopers in kids lit, eh? The book’s cast features a cast-iron-tough granny, a logging camp full of grimy guys, a tough-as-nails girl cousin, a hard-working single mom, and our hero — Stanley Slater.
Stan has recently arrived at Uncle Henry’s logging camp where his Mama will be helping out in the kitchen and his Granny (whose Evil Rating fluctuates throughout the book, from a high of 99.9%) will be keeping Stan from inadvertently killing himself.
Stan’s deadbeat dad has never been a part of his life, but Stan has just discovered that it’s not due to his dad’s death. He’s alive out there. Somewhere. Being the man of the house at age 11 is a tough job, but Stan is one determined young thing, bent on being just the sort of manly man to take care of the flimsy women folk who depend on him.
Stan is a lovable klutz, an anti-hero who reminds me a bit of Walter Mitty, ever drifting off into an inner world in which his muscles bulge and his enemies quail before him, while back in the real world he bashes his head open on an ax handle and mutters aloud the secrets he means to keep to himself.
The humor and the pathos of this story stem from the same source — Stan’s burning desire to prove himself a man to his unseen father. Stan is certain he’s coming back, and when he does, he longs to be the spitting, can-crushing, ax-wielding, throw-your-weight-around, heap of masculinity he’s sure his father is. This lands Stanley in many hilarious hotspots. He is so charmingly ridiculous.
Yet that deep longing for a father, the gripping onto a mirage, the fierce sense of loss and denial — that isn’t funny. It’s heartbreaking. And Alison DeCamp nails it, never overwhelming the story with despair, but painting big streaks of sobering reality in it which anchor the whole novel to the earth.
Stan is a slow learner, but there are some golden characters and moments in his life that feed him the truth: that being a real man is not about brute strength and bad smells; it’s about faithfulness, responsibility, kindness, and oh yeah, treating women as intelligent, strong, equals.
It was hard for me to figure out who would best like this book. I
Just one of many items from Stan’s scrapbook.
think kids ages 10 and up will enjoy it and plug into the humor of the story easily. To grasp the depth of the story, read between the lines, and appreciate all that’s been crafted into it, I think readers will need to be 13 or older. It would make a fabulous book club choice, with gobs of discussion fodder.
An unusually good novel with a genre-breaking format. I hope it gets some award attention.
Posted in fiction | Tagged 1890s, book reviews, children's literature, fathers and sons, gender roles, gender stereotypes, humor, logging, lumberjacks, Michigan, middle grade novels, Upper Peninsula | Leave a Comment »
When I was a child, my Swede-Finn grandfather carved an exasperatingly difficult wooden puzzle. When it is all put together, it looks like this:
Separately, the pieces look somewhat like this:
I could never put it together, but my older brother could, and watching it happen was like a magic show every time.
To begin with, gaping holes were everywhere. The weird-shaped pieces wobbled in their places so if he didn’t hold them just right, they fell apart like Humpty Dumpty. Fitting them together in convoluted positions, there was a moment in the process when the right piece slid into an impossible slot and — whoa! — it was a solid figure. Then, zip, zap, the final couple of pieces fit easily — I could even put the last two in! — and there it was. Splendid and whole.
So — that’s the feel of this new novel, Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Disparate pieces in the end fitting together perfectly, amazingly, like a magic puzzle. So satisfying!
Echo: A Novel, by Pam Muñoz Ryan; decorations by Dinara Mirtalipova
published in 2015 by Scholastic Press
It’s sort of a hybrid fairy tale-historical fiction story, set in an inventive format.
We start in about 1865 with a peek into the world of a young boy named Otto. A strange thing happens to Otto as he reads a curious fairy tale of a wicked king, his three fair daughters’ plight, a witch’s curse…
…and a magic harmonica.
Watch that harmonica, for it is the link — the integral puzzle piece –– for this intricately-crafted novel.
Our story then drops into the lives of three children who each occupy about one-third of the book:
Story One tells of a misfit boy in 1933 Germany. We watch as he and his family members grapple with Naziism in differing ways. Friedrich’s inner world swirls with music. His peculiar habit of conducting the melodies he hears in his head brings him no end of harassment. Will the hateful conformity gripping Germany destroy him and his family?
a school harmonica band from Galway
Story Two takes place in 1935 Pennsylvania, where two brothers, Mike and Frankie, languish in an orphanage. Finally given a home by a wealthy old woman, Mike is especially thrilled to see her grand piano, for now he can pursue the music he loves. Yet it seems this coldhearted woman doesn’t really want them. What is in store for these brothers?
Story Three jumps ahead to 1942. In southern California, Ivy Lopez’s family moves onto the farm of a Japanese family sent to an internment camp. Ivy’s dreams for her new life are bitterly splintered as she encounters dumbfounding racism. Her haven is in the school orchestra with its warmhearted conductor. Yet ugly suspicions and reprisals threaten to ruin everything.
As I said, a harmonica weaves its way through each of these stories. Isn’t that so surprising?! And in a final chapter, in New York City, the harmonica is the key to the well-being of everyone we meet on the journey. That’s an extraordinary and most unusual premise, and Ryan’s skill at weaving these stories together will amaze you.
The main characters are all about 11 or 12 years old and although the tensions of Nazi Germany and racism are integral to large sections of the book, it is never grim or unduly heavy. It’s a long novel, at almost 600 pages. My thought is that it would make a fantastic choice especially for young, voracious readers. Many of you are always on the look out for something meaty, well-written, and challenging, yet with themes and emotions appropriate for independent readers even only 7-10 years old. This is it.
It’s a great read which will grab the imagination and attention of kids ages 7-13ish (my guess), and introduce them to some key historical subjects they will want to explore more. Beautifully decorated pages echoing the cover artwork set the fairy-tale-esque parts of the novel apart. The rest of the book is not illustrated.
Lots of fabulous discussion fodder for a book club as well. Grab it this summer for a vacation read.
Posted in fiction | Tagged advanced young readers, book reviews, children's literature, harmonicas, Japanese internment, middle grade novels, music, nazi germany, orphans, racism, school segregation, world war II | Leave a Comment »
Five years ago I started tentatively blogging about children’s literature, and what a treat this has turned out to be for me!
Besides the gluttonous amount of children’s literature I’ve devoured in that time, I’ve also learned a great deal from Other Bloggers Who Know More and even made some blogging acquaintances with people I wish I could meet for a cup of tea and a good chat. An unanticipated pleasure.
So, I’m happy to celebrate Orange Marmalade’s fifth birthday, and want to say Thank You to my patient husband who puts up with my book addiction and to all of you who visit and share the wealth that is kids’ lit.
Two Speckled Eggs, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
published in 2014 by Candlewick
Ginger is having a birthday party. She wants to invite all the girls in her class…except one.
Ginger is really a good kid. Not snooty. Not mean. It’s just that Lyla is so…odd. I mean, she brings “a tarantula in a pickle jar for Show-and-Tell.” Trots about with a magnifying glass. Not anything like the other girls.
Ginger’s mother, however, puts her foot down. ALL the girls, or NONE of the girls. So, it’s Lyla Browning, too.
A funny thing happens at the party, though. Ginger’s plans are unraveling; her friends are blistering along without much reference to her. Suddenly, the fact that Lyla Browning is not like the other girls is just what makes her the perfect, new friend.
Charming story, celebrating true friendship, individuality, and the curious appeal of speckled eggs. I love it. Jennifer Mann’s mixed media illustrations sparkle with personality, real life, and the glory of quirks. Ages 4 and up.
Bug on a Bike, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2014 by Carolrhoda Books
Look at that little roadie with his racy, red helmet and groovy spoke decor! Where is he headed?
Well, he’s not saying.
But rolling along merrily, he manages to collect scads of friends — and it is quite the eclectic group!
Toads, lizards, ants, yes. But also “an athletic pickle…lifting some weights,” a skateboarding bunny, a lithe green snake sporting a purple blouse. Up hill and down dale and soon there’s a l-o-n-g line of folks going who knows where!
Turns out — it’s Bug’s birthday party! And it’s a whangdiddly of a celebration! Everyone has a most jolly time, including our friend, the bug on a bike.
You will have a marvelous time, too, jogging along with the crew and arriving at these superb party grounds. Wow. Chris Monroe’s rollicking, rhythmic text skips right along, while her sunny, tiny, Crayola-bright illustrations charm readers ages 3 and up.
Plus — she’s from Duluth. That’s major Minnesota points.
Katie Morag and the Birthdays, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick
published in 2005 by The Bodley Head
I dearly love Katie Morag, the red-headed, gumptious gal in her Wellies, careening around the Isle of Struay. It’s a pity that more of her stories haven’t mainstreamed on this side of the pond.
This birthday extravaganza volume tracks through one year of the McColl family’s loving chaos and all the birthdays celebrated along the way.
There are lots of folks to celebrate — Katie’s baby sister Flora Ann is turning One, while Neilly Beag is 70 years young. Grannie Island, Granma Mainland, Liam, all the Big Boy Cousins…even the sheep and the dog have birthdays to mark.
For Katie, every day that is not her birthday is a pinch of agony. “WHEN will it be MY birthday?” she moans. Not to worry — it’s a lovely one when her turn comes.
I love the out-of-doors wildness of life on Struay, and I adore the mussy household of the McColls, so similar to the realistic untidiness of Shirley Hughes’ families. The blustering strength, simple creativity, and genuine affection between all these characters makes for bracing, happy tales.
Besides all that, you get some Jolly Extras in this book including clever birthday cards and crafts to make, and the recipe for a jim-dandy castle cake with plenty of biscuits and chocolate! It’s a treat for ages 4 and up.
Happy Birthday, Bunny! by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2013 by Beach Lane Books
This is a sweet little creampuff of a story, simply celebrating the birthday of quite a young bunny.
She’s turning three according to the candles on the cake, but…she doesn’t really know what birthdays are made of yet.
So she asks lots of questions, and learns all about party clothes, wishing on candles, saying cheese for the camera, and being surrounded by a loud, loving, happy group of well-wishers.
By that time, a drowsy bunny is ready to be tucked into bed.
Scanlon’s gently rhyming text is chock full of love and sweetness without being cloying. Graegin’s illustrations also pack in every ounce of charm possible with cute woodland animals, darling party clothes, happiness everywhere, in nursery pinks, blues, and honey-yellows. Try this for under-One to Three-Year-Olds who like Cute.
The Birthday Cake (The Adventures of Pettson and Findus), written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist
published in Sweden in 1985; first published in the U.S. in 2015 by NorthSouth
Goofy Pettson is an old bachelor who lives in a fetching, Swedish-red cottage amongst green fields and meadows. Quite idyllic, I’d say.
His companion is a cat named Findus. Together, these two have many adventures well known to Swedish children, and this birthday fiasco is one of them.
It’s Findus who’s having the birthday. He has three each year because birthdays are such fun. And for every one of them, Pettson makes him a scrumptious cake out of Swedish pancakes and whipped cream. Yum!
The process of making the cake this time around is fraught with difficulty. Pettson discovers he needs more flour. But his bike tire is flat. So, he heads for the shed to fix the tire, but it’s locked up tight and the key is missing.
Each step of the way, things get more confoundedly messed up. Pettson is a determined fellow, though, and inventive, and persuasive when it comes to dragging Findus into the mix.
In the end, and encompassing a fishing rod, an angry bull, an opera singer, a yellow-and-red floral curtain and a truckload of moxie…Pettson and Findus finally sit down to their delicious, creamy, birthday cake.
There’s silliness galore in this winning story, with bright paintings of Pettson’s Swedish countryside adding immensely to the entertainment. It’s a longish story, just waiting to tickle the funny bones of kids ages 5 and up.
Plus — there’s a recipe for Pettson’s pancakes and directions to make them into your own delicious cake!
Thanks again for visiting Orange Marmalade!
Posted in fiction, picture books, recipes | Tagged bicycles, birthday parties, birthdays, book reviews, children's literature, friendship, humorous stories, katie morag, pancakes, picture books, scottish children's books, swedish children's books | 8 Comments »
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Company
I am a huge Winnie-the-Pooh fan.
And as I have taken pains to point out in the early days of Orange Marmalade, this means I love the original Pooh stories. Not the Disney-fied Pooh Bear. If you have never made the acquaintance of this Bear-of-Little-Brain and his wonderfully-flawed, lovable companions, you should change that. Immediately.
For those of you who melt a little inside when you hear Pooh’s name, here’s a bit of his history you may not know.
It seems that just prior to World War I, Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian on his way to military training camp, spotted a bear cub at a train station. The cub was being sold by a fellow who had shot its mother. Harry bought the little bear and named her Winnipeg; Winnie, for short.
Sally Walker’s story traces Harry’s months with this charming bear as she traipsed after him, played and made mischief, snuggled under his bed, and entertained the soldiers at camp. My favorite part is their hide-and-seek biscuits game! So cute!
Eventually, because of military duties, Harry had to give Winnie to the London Zoo where her gentle ways enchanted throngs of zoo visitors, including young Christopher Robin Milne.
This brief history can be enjoyed by children ages 4 and up, and will likely fill in some details for grown-up Pooh Bear fans as well. An Author’s Note explains more for older readers/parents, and the endpapers are plastered in vintage photographs of Winnie, Harry, and the Milnes.
Don’t forget to eat a little something in Pooh’s honor, as well!
And P.S. — Another picture book telling this same story, written by Colebourn’s great-granddaughter, illustrated by the fabulous Sophie Blackall, is set to come out this November. It’s called Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, and I am greatly looking forward to seeing it. Just look at that winning cover!
Posted in non-fiction, picture books | Tagged a a milne, book reviews, children's literature, harry colebourn, picture books, pooh bear, winnie-the-pooh, world war I | Leave a Comment »
If you are a dog-loving sort, you could rattle off a hundred reasons dogs are great in about a minute.
These comforters, welcomers, waggers, fetchers, swimmers, furry companions… are awesome!
Some dogs are trained to perform highly-skilled, life-saving tasks, capitalizing on their phenomenal sense of smell, and you can read all about them in this interesting book by non-fiction wonderwoman Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.
Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
published in 2014 by Bloomsbury
Learn how exceptional a dog’s sense of smell is, how these super sniffers are trained, and how they are used to search out danger, rescue injured people, alert people to dangerous medical conditions, identify pollution, and more. Explanations of the kinds of problems people are tackling with dogs are accompanied by anecdotes introducing us to one person or group and the talented dog helping out.
Plenty of full color photographs create engaging pages that aren’t overly flooded with text. Ages 9 and up. Books and websites for further reading are included. Ability to resist adopting another dog…not included.
Posted in non-fiction | Tagged book reviews, children's literature, dogs, law enforcement dogs, medical alert dogs, military sniffer dogs, rescue dogs | Leave a Comment »
Alabama Moon, by Watt Key
published in 2006 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Wow. I liked this book. If you’re looking for a boy-book for a middle grade reader who likes wilderness survival, adventure, and high-stakes risks, read on.
Moon is a 10 year old boy living with his dad off the grid in Alabama.
His mom is dead; his dad is radically anti-government, wounded deep in his soul during the Vietnam War, fiercely determined to live off the land and teach his son the wilderness survival skills necessary to do the same.
But then the worst-case scenario occurs: Moon’s father dies, leaving Moon utterly on his own. His father’s last instructions were to stay clear of the government and make his way to Alaska where survivalists had room to live. You don’t need anybody else, his dad says.
Moon is physically equipped for life on his own. He’s a dead-eye shot with his rifle. He can track, trap, cook, build, find medicinal herbs, craft all the clothing he needs from hides and fur…but none of this prepares him for the intense loneliness he experiences without his dad.
His brief visit to the fellow at the closest general store puts the law on his tail. Moon manages to evade the authorities for awhile, but his eventual capture thrusts him into a world that’s completely foreign, a world his father has warned him about. This kid is as slippery as an eel, though, and it’s not long before he escapes.
Back in the forest, Moon wrestles with questions about his dad’s advice. Should he find his way to Alaska? Why did his dad choose this life? How can he endure such unbearable loneliness?
The pace of this story never lets up. Life-threatening injuries, scrappy fights, jails, mean-spirited constables, break-outs, flights through the wilderness, make this story fraught with tension. There is crushing sorrow here, and galling deceit. It’s also stocked with men who are variously gritty, feisty, power-crazed, hot-tempered, and cruel. There are a few good-hearted souls as well, but only one is the kind of fellow you usually meet at your local Starbucks.
Despite its toughness, the story also has tremendous warmth. Moon is a wiry, wily, tenacious, kid. On any Survivor episode, he’d win — at age 10! But for all that, he’s got a tender heart. Underneath the scabs, he recognizes that a life without any companionship is not one he cares to live. Whether he can achieve that — that’s the big question.
Apparently this has been made into a movie. I’ve not seen it but…I always recommend reading the book. The stills I saw make it look like the grittiness of the story had been smoothed out and tidied up a bit which would be disappointing.
You should be aware that profanity is used throughout. Watt Key is an excellent writer, and I recommend this for ages 11 through adult. A sequel to the book — Dirt Road Home — follows the path of one of the side characters.
Posted in fiction | Tagged adventure stories, alabama, book reviews, books for boys, children's literature, middle grade novels, survivalists, watt key, wilderness survival | Leave a Comment »
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