My grandma and her beloved blueberries!

My glorious, spunky grandmother took care of the “old people” until she was in her 80s. Tended her glorious roses. Tramped through northern Minnesota meadows picking buckets of wild blueberries. Walked to and from her ceramics class on bitter cold winter evenings. And then, gradually, she began to fade away. Not her body, but her mind and her good cheer.

It is hard to watch someone we love alter in such devastating ways. Hard to hear snappish words when that’s so out of character. Hard to sense the strain of confusion. Really, really hard to not be known by ones so very dear.

I’ve read a number of books touching on this situation, seeking to come alongside young children who are experiencing something so sad and shocking. I haven’t just loved them, though. Some have offered what seem to be trite solutions, when there are no such things.

The books I have today have really good things to say to us. One is a picture book, one a short novel. Maybe one of these will speak some good words to you or your kids in a tough time.

KidsLogoORIGINALFILEWhat a Beautiful Morning, written by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Katie Kath
published in 2016 by Running Press Kids

Noah is the lucky recipient of his grandpa’s and grandma’s joyous affection and attention.

Summer mornings at their house begin bright and early “with a booming song.” It’s Noah and Grandpa, singing in the kitchen. While these two energetically brew coffee for sleepy Grandma, walk the dog, gobble French toast, and put things “on the docket” for the day, they sing with glad abandon.


This year, though, things are strangely different. Forgetfulness, a bit of gray vacancy, and fatigue seem to be erasing the animated grandfather Noah loves. One terrible day, Grandpa doesn’t even know who Noah is. Devastating.

Noah tries to carry on with the usual routines and serendipitously discovers that music still has a way of touching Grandpa’s real self, bringing him out of the gray for a moment. Golden.

There are still painful adjustments to make. Grandma steps up to fill the void in ways she can. A new, tender, hesitant normal works itself out, with songs being, at least for now, one of the happy constants.


This touching story rings true. The sweet relationships and personalities, the bewildering illness, Noah’s honest responses, and the measured hope of the story’s resolution, are authentic. No sugar-coating. It’s also true that music touches our minds and souls even when the fog settles in.

Katie Kath’s illustrations beam with love, welcome, and comfort. Her ingenuous device depicting the changes affecting Grandpa communicate extremely effectively. A fantastic collaboration, for ages 4 and up.

the-acb-with-honora-lee-cover-imageThe ACB with Honora Lee, by Kate De Goldi, drawings by Gregory O’Brien
first published in 2012; published by Tundra Books in 2014

Perry, age 9, is the only child in her family. Her parents are a bit preoccupied with their own lives, frankly, and her mother believes that “only children must be kept busy. They needed plenty of activities…plenty of other people in their life.” So, Perry is kept busy with after-school activities. Every day. Week after week. Until Brita, the teacher in her Music and Movement class, pulls a muscle and cancels class. Leaving a void in Perry’s week.

Recently Perry and her father have begun visiting Perry’s grandmother — Honora Lee — in a care facility on Saturday mornings. Perry has never really known Gran before. Only met her once, at the age of two. And Gran is quite a character. Mostly her memory has slipped right away. Visits with her are kept short and are predominantly a time of Perry’s father asking Gran questions that she doesn’t answer. If Dad leaves the room, Gran usually asks Perry who “that man” is. “His name is Jonathan Sunley. He’s your son,” Perry replies. “Are you Imogen?” asks Gran. “No, I’m Perry.” “That’s a boy’s name. Are you a boy? Where is Imogen?”


As you can see, there is mostly an abundance of confusion. Gran’s questions and comments hop from here to there like crickets, with very little rhyme or reason.

And yet. Perry enjoys spending time with her and the rest of the muddled residents of St. Lucia’s. With a new gap in her weekly schedule, she wangles more opportunities to visit Gran on her own. This results in a peculiar sort of attachment, friendship, understanding of Gran and her neighbors on Perry’s part. Plus, an offbeat alphabet book, co-authored with said residents.

It’s a decidedly quirky story, but at the same time endearing. Warm the-acb-with-honora-lee-illustration-by-gregory-obrienconnections do happen between the elderly and the young, even the mostly-confused elderly who can be a tad bit cranky, particular, and blunt. When someone takes the time to simply sit in their world, as Perry does, a sliver of personality, a glimpse of preference, a flash of comprehension can result. Perry is comfortable in her own skin and able to catch those nuanced clues about her grandmother, and I love her for it.

Try this one with mature, thoughtful kids ages 10 and up.

I just returned from a beautiful quick trip to Duluth, MN, one of my favorite cities. It doesn’t make its way into the City Atlas, but I feel quite away gazing out at that moody inland sea, Lake Superior.


Here’s to lots of dreaming and hopefully at least a bit of traveling for our City Atlas and Activity Fun Pack winner — Brandy! Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your mailing address and I’ll get those off to you.

For my third giveaway — and there’s at least one more so please keep coming back so I can have the joy of sharing all these books! — I have a copy of the newly-named, National Book Award winner in Young People’s Literature, Raymie Nightingale.

Raymie Nightingale cover image

This book comes courtesy of the wonderful folks at Candlewick Press who consistently publish such extraordinary titles for us. I think I was supposed to give this away for summer reading — oops — but Raymie is the perfect snuggle-up-in-the-chill-of-fall read, so I think we’re still good. 

Honestly, Raymie is an unusually powerful book. I’m going to refer you to my original review to learn about it more in-depth. This is a novel that settled deep in my bones and keeps stirring in my mind in the months since I read it. Kate DiCamillo’s exploration of her own griefs and losses stemming from an absent father, and her work of alchemy — of spinning that straw into gold — pouring herself into these unforgettable characters, shining light on the miraculous healing potential in friendships and in ordinary people’s heroism in their care for one another — that’s what’s embedded in this story.


As I said in my review, I’d peg this book for ages 11 through adult. Many children younger than 11 have been gulping this book down, so read my review and then decide for yourself.

 From now through next Tuesday, October 25, comment on the blog to enter the drawing. Can you remember the name of your best friend/s when you were 10 years old? Or tell us the name of a friend who has meant the world to you? Let’s hear it for friendship!

Charles William Eliot, the transformative president of Harvard from 1869-1909, called books “the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”


All of us who love books and reading can get downright soppy when it comes time to praise them. It is hard to express how much books impact our lives. Rather than even try, today I’m simply celebrating books with these fabulous books about books.

how-this-book-was-made-cover-imageHow This Book Was Made, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

The dynamic duo, Barnett and Rex, are back at it again, and who better to make book-making as engaging and appealing a subject as a golden Willy Wonka ticket. Their silly, self-deprecating, unconventional, winning way with both text and art works like a magnet, pulling us into this crazy, fascinating account.


It all starts with an idea. Simple enough. But gobs of hard work, wrangles with an editor, waiting, waiting, waiting, illustrating, printing, and shipping, come after that and the process is so full of surprising twists and turns, a circus world of interruptions, and any number of ludicrous bumps in the road, you would not believe it.


Unless Mac the author and Adam the artist spell it out for you, as they have done here. At the end of the day, though, all that work still does not make a book a book. What’s the last, key ingredient?

A thoroughly-inventive, humorous, masterful treatment of what goes into bringing you all the amazing stories you love. It’s a superb treat for ages 3 through Adult.

brother-hugo-and-the-bear-cover-imageBrother Hugo and the Bear, written by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
published in 2014 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Of course, books have not always been made via high speed printing presses. Once upon a time medieval monks labored painstakingly to create them by hand, start to finish.

Katy Beebe relates this intriguing process while regaling us with a delightfully-improbable story about one monk, one manuscript, and one particularly-hungry bear. Effortlessly learn about the monasteries of 12th-century France, the preparation of parchment, pen, and ink, and methods of book-binding, while shuffling along with a hapless monk named Brother Hugo. Beebe’s use of the quaint manner of medieval speech is suffused with gentle humor, all to brilliant effect.


Meanwhile, Schindler’s artwork is exactly right. He provides a lovely, matching touch of whimsy and historical accuracy. Gorgeous, illuminated letters, bucolic French landscapes,and scenes of monastery life share the stage with a curiously book-hungry bear and poor, unlucky Hugo.


A historical note, glossary of terms, and author’s and illustrator’s notes complete the package, an utter pleasure for ages 5-6 and up.

the-not-so-quiet-library-cover-imageThe Not-So-Quiet Library, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Zoom into contemporary, hipster-land now with this salsa-fied, rambunctious ode to storytime!

Every Saturday, Oskar, his pal Theodore (a bear), and Oskar’s dad go to the library.

Hilarious side note: this picture of Dad loading up his books to be returned is epic, is it not?


It is how I feel every time I lug my bags and bags of books to the library. Immediate connection with Oskar’s dad. I love having his company on this planet.

Okay. But this Saturday at the library, there’s a sudden booming. A crashing. Even a growl. Egads! There’s a monster in the library! A five-headed one at that! And he’s steaming mad! It seems he?…they?…think books are for eating and those cardboard covers and inky pages are really not doing it for them.


It’s a wild ride while Oskar and Theodore attempt to defuse the situation. Thankfully, Ms.-Watson-the-librarian steps in with just the right antidote — stories. OHora’s bold-as-brass illustrations grab us by the collar in this blast of a story that will tickle the fancies of any child (and parent) ages 2 and up. And P.S. Doughnuts and sprinkles are included. So get some to munch while you read this sizzler.

the-storybook-knight-cover-imageThe Storybook Knight, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty
published in 2016 by Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky

Oh, those Dochertys. They write great books about books! See my review of The Snatchabook if you haven’t already gobbled that one up.

Plus they live in Wales, which is cool.

This is a story about a gentle knight named Leo. Sort of the Ferdinand-the-bull of knights. He’s not into fighting and swordsmanship. Nope. He is a reader. Yay, Leo!


However, Leo’s folks do not see eye to eye with him on his preoccupation with books. There’s a dragon to be fought, and they want Leo to do it. They send him packing — sandwiches, shield, and all. He makes quite a Quixotic character on his slump-bellied horse, Old Ned.


Leo encounters several potentially-hazardous creatures en route to the dragon — a griffin, a troll — and unsurprisingly to us bibliophiles it’s his story lore that saves the day each time. When Leo meets the dragon, though — the entire, enormous, fiery, dagger-tailed, winged eminence — how can a book possibly come to the rescue?

So much book-love, such delight, warmth, personality, and peaceableness are crammed into this story, it simply radiates from the pages. You will love it. A sunny treat for anyone ages 3 and up.

a-child-of-books-cover-imageA Child of Books, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this philosophical, artistic wonder. Jeffers and Winston say that they “both wanted to create a tale that celebrates our own love of classic children’s literature with an added modern twist.”

Goal achieved. And then some.

It starts right off with the end-papers, a wallpaper of titles and authors from the canon of classic literature that has been enjoyed by children and adults for centuries. Immediately, we are overwhelmed with the vastness of this treasure.

Hand-lettered text meanders through the pages, poetically describing the voyages of imagination undertaken by someone lucky enough to be “a child of books.” Mountains of make-believe. Forests of fairy tales. These are the worlds we enter and live in and are changed by when we dwell in the world of literature.


Although the concept, the largeness of this idea, seems too big for words, too immense for a picture book, the brief phrases here are at once so concrete and so enchanting that even very young children will connect and feel deep inside that someone else understands just how magical an experience storytime is. That’s a sweet kinship.


Meanwhile, the illustrations are brilliant, incorporating segments of text from classic literature — at times whole paragraphs, at times a sea of letters or words. Inventive compositions, fantastical, friendly, ethereal, explosive expressions of the world of story, dominate the pages. It’s a joy for book-lovers, ages 3 to 100.

I love a good piece of multicultural children’s fiction and am delighted today to share three novels set in contemporary Africa that present non-stereotypical portraits of this immensely-varied continent. The stories are set in three regions seldom spotlighted in children’s literature – Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast).

These novels accommodate a broad swath of ages. I’ll start with the one appropriate for the youngest audience:

the-fastest-boy-in-the-world-cover-imageThe Fastest Boy in the World, written by Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Peter Bailey
published in 2014 by Macmillan Children’s Books
158 pages

Solomon is 11 years old, or thereabouts. He lives in the cool highlands of Ethiopia, 20 miles from the capital, Addis Ababa, with his Ma, Abba (father), small sister Konjit, and his revered, dignified, Grandfather, a man of few words.

The thing you must know about Solomon is that he loves to run. His nation is a nation of runners, slender, mighty marathoners who have won gold medals in Olympics competitions for generations. These runners are the heroes of the country, the superstars, and Solomon has in mind to join their ranks.


One day, quite unexpectedly, Grandfather announces he’s got an errand in Addis Ababa and wants to take Solomon with him. What can it be that would take Grandfather there? For Solomon, it’s tremendously exciting, but while in this strange city Grandfather collapses. It’s up to Solomon’s sturdy runner’s legs to fetch the help they need.

Perfectly paced, with joys, tensions, yearnings, fears, and triumphs for characters we immediately care about, this is a warm, engaging chapter book that could be read aloud to children ages 5 or 6, or independently at a few years older. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to seek out more of Laird’s work.

cartwheeling-in-thunderstormes-cover-imageCartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell
published in 2011 in Great Britain; 2014 in the U.S. by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
246 pages

Will – that’s the name she much prefers to her given name, Wilhelmina – lives an immensely wild, wind-borne life on a farm in Zimbabwe. Gazelle-fast, baobab-sturdy, free as air, tough as elephant hide, content so long as she’s cartwheeling through life with her best friend, Simon, and her dear father.

Then, shatteringly, Will’s life is up-ended when her father dies, and the callous woman partially responsible for his death glides in to occupy Will’s home, packing her off to the incongruous, cold, walled-in, backbiting world of an English boarding school. Where her schoolmates are far crueler than a thornbush. Where Will is impossibly forlorn, painfully squeezed into a culture that doesn’t fit.

There’s only one thing to do: make a run for it.

This is one of the best books I’ve read for a long time. I couldn’t put it down. Rundell’s language, her innovative, piercing juxtaposition of words, and her ability to capture the ethos of Will’s life in rural Zimbabwe, are stunning. Her characters wrapped themselves around my heart in a speedy minute. How I love that fierce wildcat, Will.


In addition, the unflinching, visceral portrayal of the shock of a new culture is critically important reading for anyone who has either experienced it first hand or has a close relationship to a third-culture kid. Highly recommended for ages 10 to adult.

the-bitter-side-of-sweet-cover-imageThe Bitter Side of Sweet, by Tara Sullivan
published in 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
300 pages

Amadou, age 15, and his little brother Seydou, were tricked.

With little to eat in their local Ivoirian village, the two of them boarded a bus, the boss men promising they’d be taken where they could earn a bit of money, find food for themselves.

That was years ago. Their actual destination: a remote cacao plantation where they have been enslaved ever since, brutally forced to harvest, prepare, and ship the cocoa beans worth so much money to the wealthy, corrupt businessmen at the top of the food chain. Attempts at escape have only resulted in more heinous beatings.

Now, strangely, a young girl has been brought to the camp. First girl. First time a worker has arrived on her own rather than in a busload. She doesn’t look like, act like, talk like someone from rural Ivory Coast. Yet she’s fighting like a wild boar for her freedom.


Tara Sullivan has crafted a tense, brutal, shocking story in order to shed light on the horrifying-yet-common practice of using child-slave labor to produce the chocolate that you and I enjoy as a soothing pleasure. While the end of the book reads a bit more like an exposé than a novel, the subject matter demands our attention and Sullivan grabs that, no kidding, in this story of three young kids, fighting back with everything they’ve got. Ages 15 to adult.

Hello friends! Today I’ve got a winner for the Edwardian mysteries AND I have another set of books to give away


Our winner is Rebecca Newman. Congratulations! Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your the-mystery-of-the-clockwork-sparrow-cover-imageshipping address and I’ll get those off to you.

Meanwhile, I’ll include the links again for purchasing these, as they are not available on Amazon.
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
The Mystery of the Jeweled Moth
The third title in this set — The Mystery of the Painted Dragon — is due out in the UK in early 2017. Not sure when it will be available in the U.S.

Today, courtesy of my daughter who’s a dynamite bookseller at one of our Twin Cities independent bookstores, I have another giveaway. I’ll call it the Globetrotter Giveaway! There are two parts to it.


City Atlas, illustrated by Martin Haake, written by Georgia Cherry
published in 2015 by Wide Eyed Editions

This beautiful volume takes us on a world tour, visiting some of its most impressive cities. 30 cities in all, from Lisbon to Helsinki, Cape Town to Montreal.


Each city is presented on a two-page spread, a travel guide of sorts. Museums, cathedrals, castles, and monuments are here. Food to try, street art to spy. Gardens and parks, waterways and harbors, pepper the pages with intrigue! There’s also always an individual saying hello in a local language, plus the country’s flag, a couple of stats, and something hidden to search for in the illustration.


Go ice-skating in Toronto. Wander Wenceslas Square in Prague. Listen to some Mariachi bands in Mexico City. Sample a pumpkin rice cake in Seoul. It’s just the ticket to crank up your wanderlust.


There’s no in-depth information here. Just a snapshot of what you might see visiting these places, a tantalizing look at the differences in what home might look, sound, and taste like. It leans heavily European, with 16 European cities, 5 in the U.S. and Canada, 3 from Latin America, 4 from Asia, 1 in Africa, and 1 in Australia.

Along with that, some of you may remember another spectacular volume I reviewed awhile back, Atlas of Adventures. It has a similar format, but it covers an entire country on each two-page spread.

Wide Eyed Editions is creating Activity Fun Packs to go along with these books, and I have the one for the Atlas of Adventures.


There are 8 scenes and 7 maps to color, drawn in lovely clarity by Lucy Letherland and printed on really quality paper, plus a sheet of colorful round-the-world stickers and a pull out poster with an illustrated world map on one side and a chart of the world’s flags on the other.


I’d say the coloring here is geared for a child ages 7 or 8 and up. Lots of juicy detail.


I’m giving away these two beauties, wishing you hours of ooh-ing and ah-ing over the splendid diversity in our world.

To enter, just comment before next Wednesday, October 19, telling us what world-class city you’d love to visit next. U.S. shipping addresses only or I’ll go broke🙂 And just a heads-up — I have a couple more giveaways for the next few weeks so please come back!

While many Americans mark today as Columbus Day, here in Minneapolis, I’m glad to say, we also honor it as Indigenous People’s Day.


As Columbus didn’t discover the Americas — numerous peoples and vast civilizations were already here when he arrived — and as he wasn’t the first European to find the Americas — did you know that yesterday was officially Leif Erikson Day? — and as he stumbled across the continents quite in error…you must admit, it’s a bit of a strange holiday. Not to mention the aftermath.


I much prefer to honor the First Nations in their fascinating array of cultures, from the whale-hunting, blanket-tossing peoples of the Arctic to the pueblo-building, basket-weaving peoples of the Southwest. Native Americans continue to be largely overlooked and misunderstood in our nation’s conversations about history, racism, and civil rights. Becoming acquainted through the small but growing shelf of children’s literature is a valuable step in the right direction.

A gorgeous array of cradleboards from various nations.

A gorgeous array of cradleboards from various nations.

All of the titles I chose for today happen to cover peoples from more northerly regions, from the Arctic stretching down through the Great Plains of Canada and the United States and across to the Eastern Woodlands. I hope you can find them in your libraries or bookshops.

dragonfly-kites-cover-imageDragonfly Kites (Pimithaagansa), written by Tomson Highway, illustrations by Julie Flett
published in 2016 by Fifth House

Canadian publishing houses are doing an amazing job of putting out gorgeous, well-crafted stories featuring First Nations characters, both historical and contemporary. Three of the 5 books I have for you today come out of Canada. Thank you, neighbors!

The vast, quiet, wild spaces of northern Manitoba are the summer home for Joe and Cody, two lucky boys whose days are filled with imaginative outdoor exploration.


Along with their faithful dog, Ootsie, the boys forge worlds from sticks and stone and string, adopt a wild tern, commune with chipmunks and eagles, and create delicate, iridescent kites with dragonflies and a large dose of gentleness.

Written in both English and Cree, I am telling you — this story tugs on my non-electronic heartstrings! What a lush life. Julie Flett is an award-winning artist, quite a favorite of so many of us, and her work here is spacious, elegant, pristine. I love this book! Ages 3 and up.

buffalo-bird-girl-cover-imageBuffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story, written and illustrated by S.D. Nelson
published in 2012 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Buffalo Bird Girl was a child of the prairies, born in the 1830s to the Hidatsa people who lived in what is now North Dakota.

S.D. Nelson tells the story of her rich life and culture in this fascinating, beautiful book. The enormously-strong earth-mound lodges and grandmother’s hot, hearty breakfasts; the seasonal farm chores, buffalo hunting and favorite children’s games; the frightening attacks from the Lakota and the changes that came with the traders and missionaries.


All of this is told vividly, accompanied by Nelson’s captivating acrylic paintings, graphite drawings, and historic photographs. Each page is full of appeal while the story of this amazing woman’s life grabs hold of us, mesmerizes us straight through to her old age.


A lengthy Author’s Note provides extensive information about Buffalo Bird Woman, the Hidatsa people, and the clash of cultures that came with European arrivals. A timeline correlates her life with events from 5000 BCE to 2009. A fantastic read for ages 5 and up.

grandpas-girls-cover-imageGrandpa’s Girls, written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave
published in 2011 by Groundwood Books

Four cousins are charged with excitement! Because today they’re going to visit Grandpa!

Grandpa lives on an old farm, right alongside Hwy. 5 in British Columbia. There are chickens to squawk at, a root cellar to explore, and one lofty rope swing for sailing through the sweet, hay-scented air of the barn.

Best of all, there is Grandpa. A World War II vet. A cowboy, rancher, businessman. A storytelling, candy jar-keeping, memory-laden, wonderful man. No wonder these girls love to visit him!


This warm, family story is fully contemporary, with lighthearted illustrations conveying a sunny, casual vibe. A few words in the Interior Salish language — which my computer does not even have the characters to write! — are the only real clue that Grandpa and his girls are members of an indigenous people. I love finding books which portray the ordinary lives of contemporary Native Americans, and this one is an absolutely delightful example. Ages 2 and up.

fatty-legs-cover-imageFatty Legs: A True Story, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes
published in 2010 by Annick Press; 103 pages

Our most northerly story today is the brave, lamentable account of a little girl who lived with her dear family and Inuit community on “the scattered islands of the Arctic Ocean.”

Margaret Pokiak-Fenton spent her childhood on Banks Island, a five-day journey across open ocean from the mainland where small outposts perched along the coasts of Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories. By the time she was 8 years old, she had only traveled a few times to this outside world.

But her sister had been “plucked” like a fledgling from its nest by the outsiders, taken to be schooled in Aklavik, and had returned home with the magical knowledge of Reading. How Margaret longed to read! To read for herself the beautiful book called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with its tantalizing rabbits and strange tunnels.


Margaret begs for years to be allowed to go to that school, but her parents vehemently forbid it. When she finally wears them down and begins school, it’s not the fairy-tale setting she expects, but a nightmare of abuse all too familiar to the thousands of Native children educated in boarding schools across the Americas.


Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Christy, has written this powerful memoir. It is a sorrowful page-turner about a resolute young girl, illustrated with strong, emotive illustrations and Pokiak-Fenton’s family photographs. We need to know these stories, hard as they are to bear. This one’s for ages 8 and up. The author has parsed out several episodes of this story in picture book format for younger children, if you’re interested.

when-the-shadbush-blooms-cover-imageWhen the Shadbush Blooms, written by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden
published in 2007 by Tricycle Press

The Lenni Lenape people lived in the forested lands in what is now the northeastern United States. If you live in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, these were one of the First Peoples in your region.

Carla Messinger, a member of the Turtle Clan Lenape, has written a marvelously inventive account of her culture. Walking through the 12 months of the year, Traditional Sister and Contemporary Sister narrate the activities associated with the changing seasons.

The happenings remain constant, although these two live centuries apart. The dress, the look of the land, the means of farming, fishing, playing, preparing — these all vastly change as witnessed by the colorful, ingenuous illustrations. Each two-page spread features the traditional way of life on the left, morphing smoothly into the contemporary scene on the right. Brilliant!


Even the names of the months — each richly tied to the moon — are differentiated, with the Lenape language on the left and its translation into English on the right. An Afterword tells us more about traditional Lenape culture.


Again, I love seeing the contemporary lives of indigenous peoples. This book allows us to view both worlds. Read it and let your children discover the fascinating differences between the pages. Ages 3 and up.

the-wolves-of-currumpaw-cover-imageThe Wolves of Currumpaw, written and illustrated by William Grill
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

In 1898, Ernest Thompson Seton published his classic collection of stories, Wild Animals I Have Known. Seton was a gnarly outdoorsman, a British naturalist, whose reminiscences of his encounters with animals are Jack Londonesque in their raw, wild, matter-of-factness. It’s a book that was on every boy’s nightstand for generations, though it has gone a bit out of fashion lately.front0

The first story in Seton’s collection – Lobo: The King of Currumpaw — has now been retold and illustrated by the phenomenally-talented British artist, William Grill, whose first book, Shackleton’s Journey, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, and also won my heart. My review of it is here. Grill has added to Seton’s story with further research into Seton himself, the era in which he lived, and the locale of New Mexico.

Old Lobo was the leader of a pack of wolves whose “deep howl struck fear through the hearts of ranchmen and farmers” as they awaited the dreaded attacks on their herds of cattle. A bounty was placed on his head, yet over and over, skillful hunters were outmatched by Lobo’s cunning.


Enter Ernest Thompson Seton, whose determination to succeed where others had failed drives him to mercilessly pursue his prey. It’s a tale that will break the hearts of many readers, but keep reading and discover how it also ended up breaking the heart of Seton and steering him into new, conservationist activity.

As expected from Grill, this is a stunningly beautiful book, from the endpapers, blanketed in the vermilion and charcoal colors and patterns of the Navajo, straight through to the illustrated glossary —  tidy rows of Grill’s thumbprint-drawings accompanying definitions for this Western vocabulary of snipe and mesa and heifer.


For the story itself, 75 pages long, Grill employs a combination of cinematic sequences – dozens of thumbprint-style images like clicks of the shutter, zooming in on the details; and then grand, double-page, full stops – sweeping vistas of the West sprawling out, arresting our attention, the tiny stature of man and beast shown puny against these imposing landscapes. Grill completely immerses us in this world, this story.


The illustrations are in colored pencil. I love the textures, precision, and sketchbook-feel — the unpolished sense in keeping with the rugged territory, as though we’re seeing what captured Grill’s eye at any given moment. The natural, subdued palette appeals to realism, the tenor of the story, and respects the ability of the reader to settle into a long, sober account, devoid of Disneyfication.


Be aware that this is a true story. Animals die, front and center. For those sturdy enough for that, I highly recommend this remarkable, gorgeous book. Ages perhaps 7 or 8 through Adult.

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