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There’s been a storm of conversations recently in the children’s literature world over carefulness and truthfulness in our depictions of slavery. The good news in all of this is that we are having these conversations. This week, I’ve got seven strong choices for increasing our understanding of this painful piece of our history.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter cover imageWhen the Slave Esperança Garcia Wrote a Letter, by Sonia Rosa, illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, translated from the Portuguese by Jane Springer
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

I didn’t imagine I would find the story of an amazing, Afro-Brazilian slave woman when I went book-looking, but this moving and visually-sophisticated account fairly leapt off the shelf.

After reading this short text, I only wish I could meet this person. She was an intelligent, caring, remarkably hopeful woman whose deep sorrows and trials could not break her spirit.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior2 rosa and hees

Esperança Garcia lived in the Brazilian state of Piauí in the mid-1700s. For a time she was owned by Jesuit priests and worked on their cotton farm. While there, she was taught to read and write which was a rarity in Brazil just as it was in the Southern United States. When she was sold to a new, cruel master, Garcia’s situation vastly deteriorated. She found she could not be silent, and wrote an eloquent letter to the governor.

when the slave esperanca garcia wrote a letter interior rosa and hees

Read her story, written with intimacy and grace, accompanied by these extraordinary pictures. Each page is vigorous and arresting, surging with Brazilian heat and dominated by the indomitable figure of Esperança herself. Ages 5 and up.

frederick's journey cover imageFrederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by London Ladd
published in 2016 by Disney/Jump at the Sun

When you see Doreen Rappaport’s name on a book, you just settle in with confidence that a remarkable connection is about to occur between you and her subject. And that’s exactly what we get from this newest book on Frederick Douglass.

His life’s journey is traced from the time he was a tiny babe-in-arms, wrenched from his mother as she stretches a helpless arm towards him with a brokenhearted wail, to his persevering accomplishment of helping obtain the vote for black men.

frederick's journey interior rappaport and ladd

Written in lyrical free verse, and interspersed with quotes from Douglass, it’s an eloquent biography. London Ladd’s powerful paintings pour strength, dignity, and determination across every page. Included are Author and Illustrator Notes on the making of the book, a timeline, and resources for further learning. An exceptional piece, highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

two friends cover imageTwo Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
published in 2016 by Orchard Books

Frederick Douglas, amidst his great struggle for African American rights, and Susan B. Anthony, in her epic struggle for women’s rights, met for tea one evening in Susan’s parlor, in Rochester, New York.

What a meeting! What a pair of battle-weary friends. Wouldn’t you love to have been there?!

two friends interior robbins, qualls, and alko

Beautifully written in a perceptive, parallel structure, with Qualls’ and Alko’s  vibrant illustrations incorporating text and image — this book offers a unique perspective on these individuals and their friendship. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

freedom in congo square cover imageFreedom in Congo Square, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2016 by Little Bee Books

Congo Square, in New Orleans, was a small patch of earth known around the world because of what took place there on Sunday afternoons during the days of slavery.

Not auctions. Not whippings. Not labors of any kind. But dancing.

freedom in congo square interior weatherford and christie

Anticipate that one day of freedom, celebration, community, and the music of home, in this jubilant story. Strikingly illustrated by Christie in gorgeous, graceful, leaping line and pulsating color.

An Author’s Note tells more about this uncommon piece of American history. Ages 3 and up.

henry's freedom box cover imageHenry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2007 by Scholastic Press

Henry “Box” Brown was enslaved in Virginia. As a young boy he was sold away from his beloved family, and as a young married man with three dear-as-life-itself children, he was again left bereft, his wife and children ripped away from him in one searingly-painful blink of an eye. All. Gone.

henry's freedom box illustration kadir nelson

So, when an idea came to Henry of a way to escape to the north, to freedom from the unspeakable griefs of slavery, what did he really have to lose? 

henry's freedom box illustration2 kadir nelson

His method: shipping himself in a wooden crate 350 miles to Philadelphia. Henry’s story is at once heartbreaking and triumphant. The magnificent illustrations of Kadir Nelson very deservedly won him a Caldecott Honor. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 or 5 and up. A short Author’s Note adds a few more details to Henry’s story.

freedom river cover imageFreedom River, by Doreen Rappaport, pictures by Bryan Collier
published in 2000 by Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children

In this riveting story, you’ll meet an almost unbelievably brave named John Parker. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to forget him.

He lived in Ripley, Ohio, just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky. John had been born a slave, earned enough money to buy his freedom, and become a successful businessman. That’s the short version, skipping over a whale of a lot of misery, clamor, and initiative which you can learn in the book’s Historical Note.

freedom river illustration bryan collier

But John wasn’t content with only freedom and comfort for himself. Instead he became one of the most active, bold conductors on the Underground Railroad. This book tells of his relentless pursuit of one young family and how he risked his life again and again to usher them to freedom. Incredible. 

One of the things I love about Bryan Collier is that in his Illustrator Notes he shares rich insights about how and why he pieces together the elements of his commanding, award-winning collages. Don’t miss reading these Notes! You and your kids will learn a lot about the subject, and become more art-literate at the same time. Ages 4 and up.

night boat to freedom cover imageNight Boat to Freedom, by Margot Theis Raven, pictures by E.B. Lewis
published in 2006 by Melanie Kroupa Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux

Here’s another story of a young man risking all to bring slaves across the river from Kentucky to Ohio. It is inspired by accounts taken down by WPA writers who compiled slave narratives during the 30s.

night boat to freedom illustration e.b. lewis

This young man, Christmas John, is far younger than John Parker, though. Just 12 years old when he ferries his first passenger across in the dead of night, quieting the oars, straining to see the light of the stationmaster who waits on the far shore. After that first success, John keeps up his rescue work for years, until it’s finally too dangerous for him and dear Granny Judith to stay a moment longer.

night boat to freedom illustration2 e.b. lewis

Margot Raven has constructed some beautiful, winning characters here after immersing herself in hundreds and hundreds of fascinating interviews of ex-slaves. E.B. Lewis is one of my favorite illustrators, and here again his masterful watercolor work brings these people and scenery and emotions to life with strength and beauty. Ages 5 and up.

If you haven’t already heard, 2016 is being fondly celebrated by a world-ful of Beatrix Potter fans. July 28 marks her 150th birthday, and I should say that bread and milk and blackberries would make the ideal birthday tea.wedgewood peter rabbit tea set

Today, I’m here to tell you about some old Potter titles I just discovered in the stacks of my library, some brand new biographical picture books  just released in the last year, as well as the newly discovered Tale we await later this year. And as always, to attempt to persuade you to read these robust little books.

The cherry on top must be the announcement of the soon-to-be-published, long-forgotten manuscript.

the tale of kitty in boots from The Guardian

 The Tale of Kitty in Boots was found tucked away in the archives of the Victoria and Albert museum along with one prized color sketch by Potter. The story was handed off to Quentin Blake to illustrate (no pressure there) and I am greatly looking forward to seeing it this September. You can read more about the manuscript discovery at the link here.

The tale, according to Beatrix herself, is “about a well-behaved

One of Quentin Blake's illustrations for The Tale of Kitty in Boots.

One of Quentin Blake’s illustrations for The Tale of Kitty in Boots.

prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life, and goes out hunting with a little gun on moonlight nights, dressed up like Puss in Boots.” What’s more, there are cameo appearances by Mr. Tod, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Ribby, Tabitha Twitchit, and Peter Rabbit himself. I understand Peter’s physique has become a bit stouter.

This all sounds like a Christmas 2016 gift-giving no-brainer, to me. What do you think?

beatrix-potter-the-tale-of-mrs-tiggy-1I have highlighted several of Beatrix’s Tales over the years on Orange Marmalade and each time I cross my fingers that some of you will discover for the first time what a rich treasure they are. If you know only the name of Peter Rabbit, or perhaps have read an abridged, toddler-ized version of his story, let me say again: You are missing out! If you suppose Potter’s stories to be merely “cute” due to the unending supply of Peter-merchandise for nurseries, you are in for a grand surprise.

The library of Peter Rabbit Stories features some of the richest, most sophisticated vocabulary in children’s literature. And unlike the recent trend where words are defined intermittently (a word meaning from time to time) in the text, Potter trusts her readers to relish the toothsome sounds of the language itself and ferret out the meaning in context, in time. Their venturesome plots move along with not a flicker of condescension for young readers.

Besides the unabashedly expansive language, Potter’s stories present Jemima1a decidedly unsentimental view of life complete with toothy foxes ready to gobble up daft ducks, and farmers lumbering along trying to drown sacks full of kittens. There is nothing twee here. It’s a rough-and-tumble world and you’d better keep your wits about you. Potter presents us with vivid characters, fully-realized in her short stories, who live on as substantially as those in Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood, or on the River Beatrix_Potter_and_Kep_in_1915Banks of Wind in the Willows.

Potter herself was not a dainty person. Her nature-tramping in childhood, expertise in the field of mycology, perseverance in becoming published, business acumen, farming and conservation work in the Lakes District, her rugged life there — we would not expect such a person to write fraudulently sweet stories. 

Of course, all this masterful storytelling is paired with her exquisite illustrations that have brought so much joy to generations of children, and the whole package is tucked into books fit for small hands, a feature Potter insisted upon from the start.

A number of biographies about Beatrix have been written over the years, including two picture books recently published that offer glimpses of her childhood for young readers:

beatrix potter and her paint box cover image

Beatrix Potter and Her Paintbox, written and illustrated by David McPhail, published last year. My review of it is here.

beatrix potter and the unfortunate tale of a borrowed guinea pig cover image

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, by Deborah Hopkinson with illustrations by Charlotte Voake, has just recently hit the shelves. I reviewed an advance copy of it last year, which you can find here.

A while back I scanned through the lists of Potter titles in my library and found a couple I’d never heard of, so I read them and was delighted with one especially.

The first was another of her Tales, published posthumously and illustrated by Marie Angel.

the tale of the faithful dove cover imageThe Tale of the Faithful Dove, written in 1907 was published by Frederick Warne in 1956. It’s based on a true account, and tells the story of a dove trying to escape from a predatory falcon who falls into a chimney and would certainly have perished there but for the extraordinary behavior of her faithful mate and the lucky observance of a couple of tradesmen in the neighborhood. For those of you who love Beatrix’s work, it is worth looking for, although it is not quite as polished a story as the others. It’s been published in the same small-hands size as the entire Peter Rabbit library.

The second book I read is a novel! Did you know she had written one?the fairy caravan cover image I was flabbergasted. It’s a 200+ page novel called The Fairy Caravan, originally published in 1929 by Frederick Warne, and it’s a book that is crying out to be brought back into print.

Here is the opening:

In the Land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is inhabited exclusively by guinea-pigs. They are of all colours, and of two sorts. The common, or garden, guinea-pigs are the most numerous. They have short hair, and they run errands and twitter. The guinea-pigs of the other variety are called Abyssinian Cavies. They have long hair and side whiskers, and they walk upon their toes.

the fairy caravan illustration2 beatrix potter

The common guinea-pigs admire and envy the hair of the Abyssinian Cavies; they would give anything to be able to make their own short hair grow long. So there was excitement and twittering amongst the short-haired guinea pigs when Messrs. Ratton and Scratch, Hair Specialists, sent out hundreds of advertisements by post, describing their new elixir.

the fairy caravan illustration beatrix potterWhen one guinea pig by the name of Tuppenny, a dilapidated fellow suffering from toothache and chilblains, undergoes treatment with the wonderful “new quintessence,” the most luxurious results are achieved! You can see a bit of his wild, white fluff in the picture above. Yet his new hairdo brings new trials to Tuppenny and in the end, he runs away. By and by he meets up with a “tiny four-wheeled caravan, painted yellow and red, upon whose sides were written in capital letters “ALEXANDER AND WILLIAM’S CIRCUS” and now Tuppenny’s adventures begin in earnest.

The rest of the novel acquaints us with the highly imaginative, charming the fairy caravan illustration4 beatrix potterescapades of this little troupe of animals, including some marvelously-enchanted goings-on. Absolutely delightful! It would make a fabulous read-aloud for kids who’ve cut their teeth on Kipling, Grahame, Milne, or the like, and can manage the sophisticated vocabulary and style. This could be as young as 5 or 6. For those reading it on their own, I’d say a stout reader of 9 or 10 might manage it.

So — dip in where you find yourself. If you’ve never read the Tales, start there. There are at least 23 of them, depending on how you count, so that 712wse-D5+Lshould keep you busy for awhile! If you’re already a dyed-in-the-wool Potter fan, look for the newest picture-book biographies, get in line for the forthcoming Tale, and see if you can track down the wonderful story of The Fairy Caravan. Her work is a glory. Don’t miss it!

Five friendly stories to go with your chocolate hearts…

love monster and the last chocolate cover imageLove Monster and the Last Chocolate, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright
originally published in the UK; first American edition 2015 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux

Love Monster has a dilemma which you can perhaps relate to.

He’s just arrived home from a lovely vacation only to discover a large box of chocolates awaiting him on his doorstep. Before he can even open it, his chocolate-fanatic-brain goes zinging into serious overload! Just imagine all those delectable treats nesting inside!

love monster and the last chocolate interior rachel bright

Here’s the dilemma: He knows he should share with his friends, but what if there’s not enough and he misses out? Or, what if someone takes the very best one before he can nab it? Oh dear! What’s a Love Monster to do?!

This is a serious Hair-Twirling, Nail-Biting Ethical Tight Spot, don’t you agree? Ride along with Love Monster on his rocky journey in this sunny, friendly, funny, and heartwarming book. A winner for ages 2 and up.

here comes valentine cat cover imageHere Comes Valentine Cat, by Deborah Underwood, pictures by Claudia Rueda
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Cat is back and this time he’s feeling quite peevish about Valentine’s Day. He is not a fan. Mooshy-gooshy-yuk.

To make matters worse, Cat’s new neighbor is a dog, a horrible, mean dog. At least, Cat hasn’t exactly met him, but all signs point to it.

here comes valentine cat interior deborah underwood and claudia rueda

Rather than extend an olive branch at Valentine’s Day, Cat plans to teach that Dog a lesson. Until something quite surprising happens that puts everything in a new light.

Headstrong, lovable Cat is an eminently-relatable character, and Rueda’s a genius at creating his vivid personality with just the twitch of an eyebrow. Great choice for ages 2 and up.

who will comfort toffle cover imageWho Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley, written and illustrated by Tove Jansson; English translation by Sophie Hannah
originally published in Finland, 1960; this edition 2010 by Enfant/Drawn & Quarterly

If you don’t know the Moomins, you can read a bit about them and their escapades here.

This book is one of the cartoon picture books Jansson created about these marvelous creatures and it stars Toffle, a mop-haired, extremely shy-and-retiring fellow.

Toffle has come to realize that his lonely, sad life needs some change, swho will comfort toffle illustration tove janssono he bravely sets out to take a look at the world around him. Along the way, he runs across lots of merry groups — whompses and fillyjonks, Hemulen and Snufkin, folks dancing and making daisy chains, fluting and feasting on pancakes. But he is so reserved and forgettable, it’s like he is invisible to them all.

Who will comfort Toffle?

Spoiler Alert: This book has a happy ending. Dive into the fanstastical world of Moomin Valley to meet all these fab friends and discover Toffles sweet solution. Ages 5 and up.

i love you already cover imageI Love You Already, by Jory John, illustrated by Benji Davies
published in 2016 by Harper

Bear and Duck are here again. (We saw them first in Goodnight Already.) Bear is just as content as ever to shuffle about his home in peace, lounge in his nightshirt while reading and sipping tea. Ahhhh.

And Duck is just as determined to Do Fun Things Non-Stop with his great pal, Bear.

i love you already illustration benji davies

The more Bear resists, the more Duck becomes a little worried. Maybe Bear doesn’t like him? How awful would that be?!

After a dayful of botheration, pandemonium, and a near-concussion, Duck hears the reassuring words he’s been waiting for. Goofy fun. Sparkling personalities. Bold, neon-bright illustrations. Great fun for ages 2 and up.

Hedgehugs cover imageHedgehugs, by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper
published in the UK in 2014; first American edition 2015 by Henry Holt and Company

Finally this prickly tale of Horace and Hattie, two hedgehogs who are the very best of friends, but who find a friendly hug to be a most pointedly tricky affair.

Hedgehugs interior Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper

All year long, these two come up with hopeful solutions to their spiky situation. But, alas! Nothing works. Until one day, the solution literally blows their way on an opportune breeze.

Find out what it is, and solve another mystery that regularly occurs around your household, all in one swoop! Charming and cute for ages Under-Two and up.

Each week of February — Black History Month — I’ll be posting a list of excellent titles for you to explore, grouped by topic. I’m starting out with a jazz theme. Learn and enjoy!

jazz on a saturday night cover imageJazz on a Saturday Night, by Leo and Diane Dillon
published in 2007 by The Blue Sky Press

The Dillons’ introduction to jazz is a lovely place for anyone to begin learning about this iconic American musical form.

The text of the book is brief — a rhythmic description of an epic, fictional, jazz ensemble, made up of the greats who meet up for one cool performance. It’s a Dream Team with folks like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald. Brief bios of all 7 musicians are included in the closing pages, as well as a list of favorite recordings to get us started listening.

jazz on a saturday night illustration dillon

As always the artwork is phenomenal. The Extra Bonus Treat here is an accompanying CD made by the Dillons in which they teach us about what makes up a jazz ensemble. In under 20 minutes, the two of them talk to us conversationally — very much a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood sort of feel — telling about each instrument. We get to hear the different kinds of sounds each one can make. Then we hear what kind of music happens when two of them play together, and then more. Finally, we hear the whole ensemble play a piece in which we can pick out the individual instruments — how clever that feels!

JazzOnASaturdayNight illustration leo and diane dillon

Kids as young as 4 or 5 can learn way more than you might guess from this understated, brilliant book. Then move on to learn about some African American jazz artists whose names are perhaps not quite as familiar, such as …

harlem's little blackbird cover image

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, words by Renée Watson, pictures by Christian Robinson
published in 2012 by Random House

Florence Mills was born in 1896, the daughter of former slaves. She began singing and dancing in her childhood in Washington, D.C., and went on to become one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance.

harlems little blackbird interior watson and robinson

Read the story of this talented and generous woman, accompanied by Christian Robinson’s exciting, sizzling art, with ages 5 and up.

little melba and her big trombone cover image

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrations by Frank Morrison
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books Inc.

Love this story of a little gal that picks up a mighty big instrument and then proceeds to dominate with it! Melba Doretta Liston was a legendary trombone player, composer, and arranger.

little melba and her big trombone illustration frank morrison

Hip, swingin’ artwork accompanies this upbeat story for ages 4 or 5 and up. A lengthy afterword fills in a lot more history for you, with a selected discography so you can hear her sound for yourself.

the little piano girl cover image

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend, by Ann Ingalls & Maryann Macdonald, illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children

Mary Lou Williams was a child prodigy with an uncanny ability to both learn and create music from a young age. She went on to travel and boogie with the “Kings and Dukes and Earls of jazz” for almost 60 years, a phenomenal success, a rare female jazz pianist for her time, and a kind mentor for others.

the little piano girl illustration detail giselle potter

Giselle Potter’s naive illustrations are rosy-warm and appealing. Ages 4 and up.

piano starts here cover image

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker
published in 2008 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Art Tatum was another child who gravitated to music and the piano at an early age. Despite severely limited vision, which grew progressively worse, Tatum was playing professionally by age 16, and went on to play, improvise, travel, record, planting his star firmly at the top of the world of jazz.

piano starts here illustration robert andrew parker

This book is written as though Tatum is narrating his life story, with a sweetly personal tone. Parker’s watercolor illustrations also convey a lovely humanness, warmth, and joy. Ages 4 and up.

There are so many more exceptional biographies available at your library of other jazz legends, so don’t stop here!

I’ve met a bunch of awesome kids recently in the three novels highlighted today, all of whom I’d love to introduce to you.

They’re coming from widely different locations — a farm in the American South, an island off the coast of India, a ranch in Oregon. Each of them encounters substantial adversity and meets it with an authentic mixture of courage, reluctance, fear, and deep questions about life. All great choices for middle-grade readers and book clubs.

ruby lee and me cover imageRuby Lee & Me, by Shannon Hitchcock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Sarah Willis has her life turned upside down in one split second when her younger sister, Robin, is critically injured on Sarah’s watch.

Over the next months, Sarah is engulfed in guilt and terrified about her sister’s injuries. She longs to experience peace and forgiveness, but isn’t convinced it’s possible for her, not while Robin still lies in a hospital bed. 

Sarah moves to her grandparents’ farm during this crisis, into their warm, accepting embrace, and just down the road from her best friend, an African American girl named Ruby Lee.

Biscuits

As Sarah and Ruby start school, more difficulties await them. School integration has come to Shady Creek, and along with it the area’s first African American teacher for the predominantly white students.

Sarah navigates all this with some huge missteps, then has to find her way back with the help of her teacher, her faith, and her solid heart. Beautifully written characters interact with honesty in this great read for ages 9 and up.

tiger boy cover imageTiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2015 by Charlesbridge

Neel lives on an island of the Sunderbans, a tropical home of salty creeks, flowering jasmine, and wild guavas off the coast of India. It’s a home Neel loves to the core of his being, but it’s a tough place to make a living.

That’s why when the corrupt businessman, Gupta, pays men to harvest rare sundari trees or bully widows for rent payments, even good men like Neel’s father turn their backs on long-held values to earn his rupees.

bengal-tiger_103977

Now, a tiger cub, normally protected in a reserve, has gone missing and Gupta is offering a huge reward for it. Neel and his sister know Gupta means to sell the skin and body parts on the black market if anyone captures it for him. Despite the immense dangers, they’re determined to find it first and return it to safety.

Meanwhile, another treasure is at stake: Neel’s future. He’s a bright student, who could bring honor and success to his family if he’d agree to move far from home for a good education. But the loss of his home-life is not something Neel is willing to accept. 

Mitali Perkins weaves Neel’s inner turmoil and outward adventure together brilliantly in a marvelously diverse setting. Excellent, fast read (132 pages) with an environmental message and resources to learn more about efforts to save Bengal Tigers and bring about holistic development to the Sunderbans region. Ages 9 and up.

heart of a shepherd cover imageHeart of a Shepherd, by Roseanne Parry
published in 2009; a Yearling Book from Random House

Brother is 11 years old,  the youngest of five boys living with his dad and grandparents on their ranch in Eastern Oregon. As his story opens, his father has just received orders to head with his Army Reserve unit to Iraq for 14 months. That seems like an eternity to Brother.

With his older brothers off at their own military assignments and schools, Brother finds himself the only one left to help his grandparents keep the ranch going. Those tasks are brutally hard, and Brother has never been so sure that he’s cut out for either ranching or the military anyway, as generations of Aldermans before him seem to have been.

eastern-oregon-ranches

So there’s a raft of anxieties snarling in Brother’s heart and mind — about his dad’s safety, his grandparents’ health, the bum lambs he’s tending, the promise he made to his dad to keep the ranch in good shape, and his own misgivings about who he is meant to be. Brother doggedly moves forward with the wise help of his extraordinary grandparents — his Catholic grandmother and Quaker, pacifist grandfather — and the new priest in town, Father Ziegler.

This story is unusually deep, honest, and tender, probing issues of faith, calling, and identity in children. Deep chords of grief run through the story, yet the strength of these characters support us all the way through. Ages 10 and up.

P.S. Can I just say that I really dislike the cover of this book? I don’t like to make negative comments here, but if you look at the cover and say, “Hmmm…not for me,” I just want to recommend that you ignore it and give the story a chance.

Arm yourself for the cold and flu season! Cook up some chicken noodle soup, fluff the pillows, and settle in with some misery-loves-company stories, such as…

sniffles for bear cover imageThe Sniffles for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
published in 2011 by Candlewick Press

Bear tends towards the grumpity side even on the best of days, so when his throat gets “sore and gruffly” and his nose is all “sniffly-snouted” you just know he’s going to be extra tetchy.

sniffles for bear interior becker and denton

Cheerful, irrepressible Mouse is eager to be Nurse and Pleasant Companion, but Bear resists all his attempts to divert and comfort. Instead, he moans and groans with artful melodrama. Sheesh. Finally, after a long nap, Bear wakes feeling better, but now Mouse falls ill. How will Bear do when the tables are turned?

Every Bear and Mouse story is worth reading over and over. Lovable characters, a humorous clash of personalities, heaps of affection, plus Denton’s amusing illustrations of these two mismatched friends — it all adds up to first-rate charm. Ages 2 and up.

mr putter and tabby catch the cold cover imageMr. Putter & Tabby Catch the Cold, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published in 2002 by Harcourt, Inc.

Here’s another warmhearted story of friends who care.

This time, it’s Mr. Putter who’s blowing and hacking and generally feeling miserable. He has fond memories of the pampering he had as a kid when he was in bed with a cold, but now he’s “old with a cold” and it’s no fun at all.

Leave it to Mrs. Teaberry, that neighborliest of neighbors, and her good dog, Zeke, to save the day. It takes quite a bit of ingenuity, a dash of convincing, and a dose of desperation, for it all to come together, but the result is fabulous. Almost worth getting sick, to give this little system a try!

mr putter and tabby catch the cold illustration Arthur Howard

I love the Mr. Putter stories. Perfect early-readers, with plots, writing, and illustrations fizzy enough to use as read-alouds with young children ages 2 and up.

never catch a cold cover imageNever Catch a Cold, written and illustrated by André François
originally created in 1966; published in 2012 by The Creative Company

This quirky, cautionary tale is a total riot. The material was created by legendary French illustrator André François for an advertising campaign back in the ’60s.

His trademark black-and-white ink paintings, all blobs and quavering lines, trumpet wry humor from the pages as he spins out this deadpan, informative lecture about Colds. A Cold, just so you know, looks like this:

never catch a cold illustration2 andre francois

…and these Colds have survived since prehistory because little children, from time immemorial, are always taught to never catch a Cold. Thus, they have no mortal enemies.

never catch a cold illustration Andre Francois

François introduces us to the many varieties of Colds, the classes of Colds — good Colds and bad Colds, the ease with which one can catch a Cold, and the wisdom of NOT catching one.

never catch a cold illustration3 andre francois

Superlative humor. Epic imagination. A small-but-stout sized book. For children old enough to enjoy puns and satire, and definitely for grown-ups, this is a treat.

Here are a couple of titles for would-be doctors and nurses who just want a little practice:

doctor nice cover imageDoctor Nice, written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
published in 2015 by Holiday House

There’s quite a line-up in Doctor Nice’s waiting room. Crows. Goats. A massive moose with the sneezles.

One at a time the fuzzy, furry patients tell the nice doctor their woes and he dexterously treats them all. Copious bandaging appears to be his special knack.

doctor nice illustration valeri gorbachev

When Mommy says it’s time for lunch, we get one last — surprising — glimpse of the invalids, which may inspire some doctoring in your household, too. Friendly, imaginative, fun for ages 2 and up.

nurse clementine cover imageNurse Clementine, written and illustrated by Simon James
published in 2013 by Candlewick

Young Clementine Brown gets a realio coolio nurse outfit and kit for her birthday and she is pumped to try it out. Large and in-charge, she begins taking care of the bumps and pains around the house. And once again, this bandaging business seems to be The Thing to do.

Annoyingly, her brother Tommy, whose recklessness results in Plentiful Opportunities to Bandage, is a completely unwilling patient. Insists he needs no Medical Attention. Grrgh. 

nurse clementine illustration simon james

Is it okay to root for Tommy to get hurt…just a wee bit? Just enough for Nurse Clementine to ply her trade? You’ll have to read this lighthearted story to see how dear Clemmy gets her chance. Illustrated in Simon James’ humorous, wibbly-wobbly line and gloriously-light watercolors. Ages 2 and up.

Finally, one look at a furry helper for kids with much more than a bad cold:

mogie the heart of the house cover imageMogie: The Heart of the House, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
published in 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

This beautiful story is about a special dog named Mogie, a companion dog at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston, who has an unusual aptitude for knowing just which child needs his snuggly presence.

When a child is especially out of spirits or full of the miseries in their long battles with illness, Mogie makes a bee-line to them, sidles up, leans in, and exudes doggy-love. All of which is amazingly restorative. 

Take a tour of the Ronald McDonald world, meet this lovable fellow named Mogie, and watch him work his charms on several residents. He’s honestly the heart of the house.

Great, upbeat story for ages 3 and up which introduces kids to service dogs and to long-term childhood illness in a warm, not-at-all-scary way.

Groundhog Day is such a odd tradition, isn’t it? 

Be that as it may, perhaps the beginning of February needs an excuse for a happy, snuggly read with a Groundhog’s Day snack…

CinnamonSugarDoughnuts5

Cinnamon toast and cocoa are the treat of choice for Brownie Groundhog and her friend Fox in this charming story:

brownie groundhog and the february fox cover imageBrownie Groundhog and the February Fox, by Susan Blackaby, illustrated by Carmen Segovia
published in 2011 by Sterling Publishing Inc.

It’s February 2, the most important day of the year for a groundhog. Brownie shimmies up her tunnel to find out how many more weeks she’s got to wait for the delicious warmth of Spring.

Phooey. Her shadow stretches out, long and blue on the snow. Six more weeks to go. Brownie is not keen on waiting.

brownie groundhog and the february fox illustration2 carmen segovia

Neither, for that matter is Fox, who is quite impatient to have a morsel of groundhog for a tasty breakfast. It’s all Brownie can do to outsmart the fox and coax him into waiting until the proper time to eat her. Which is never, of course!

Eventually the day turns around with a cheery Groundhog Day picnic in the snowy woods (with that cinnamon toast and cocoa) and some surprising signs that Spring may not be so long in coming after all.

brownie groundhog and the february fox illustration carmen segovia

Completely charming. Segovia’s vivid artwork with those foxy-reds and winter-sky-blues really pops against the textured snowy white of the pages. The handlettered text adds a cozy, homespun quality.

brownie groundhog and the wintry surprise cover image

If you like this one, you’ll love revisiting the crew in another story, Brownie Groundhog and the Wintry Surprise. Irresistable, for ages 3 and up.

Now pour up another round of hot chocolate for this classic Crockett Johnson tale, almost 60 years old, and republished this year:

will spring be early or will spring be late cover imageWill Spring be Early? Or Will Spring be Late? written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson
first published in 1959; revised edition published in 2016 by Harper

Groundhog pops out of his snowy den to discover that he cannot see his shadow. That means he gets to spread good news — news that everyone wants to hear — that spring will be early. 

As he trots off, he spies, quite unexpectedly, a brilliant red flower blooming in the snow! Goodness gracious! His prediction is certainly right! Not only will Spring be early — it’s already here! What a relief to know this beyond a shadow of a doubt!

will spring be early or will spring be late interior crockett johnson

Happiness ripples through the forest. All the animals gush over the heroic Groundhog and his crimson signal of Spring…until grouchy ol’ Pig arrives on the scene and with one chomp, brings an end to their glee.

The story, though, does not end so unhappily for poor Groundhog. Discover the amusing response of his pals when you read this vintage charmer with children ages 2 and up.

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