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June 20th is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day.

I have no idea, really, how your heart cannot break for the plight of refugees, fleeing unspeakable violence, crushing famine, and intense persecution. Some are so terribly young, to have experienced such trauma.

These innocents then face long years in crowded refugee camps, repeatedly dashed hopes, painful losses. When they do finally arrive in a new land of hope, they are sometimes met with suspicion, resentment, and meanness.

Oh, dear world. We must do better. Let’s cultivate compassion in ourselves and our children. Today’s books are stepping stones in that direction. I’ve arranged them in order of accessibility by age. Links to past posts with many other excellent titles are included at the end of the post.

Where Will I Live?, written and photographed by Rosemary McCarney
published in 2017 by Second Story Press

Coming to us from Canada, this striking photoessay brings the contemporary refugee situation into brilliant focus for young children.

McCarney provides Mr. Rogers-esque words to explain this tragedy to the very young. “Sometimes scary things happen to good people. When soldiers fight or danger comes, families must pack their things and search for a safe place to live.

As she traces their varied journeys, one little refugee girl wonders aloud where she will land and live. Brief photo captions essentially tell the story while McCarney’s excellent, child-centric photos reveal harsh realities in a palpable yet cushioned, non-traumatic way.

If you want to build a heart of compassion in young children, this is a fabulous, top-of-the-list title. Ages 18 months and up.

My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
published in 2017 by Pajama Press

A young Syrian boy flees with his family to a refugee camp in Jordan when their home and city are destroyed. The hardest part of leaving is saying goodbye to his beloved pigeons.

Although this may strike us as surprising, it really does reflect the workings of a child’s heart, doesn’t it? The pieces of ordinary life and familiarity which glue a child to his home are often unknown and undervalued by adults, yet fasten these little ones to a place or a person with emotional superglue.

In his new refugee camp home, anxiety and grief weigh the boy down, silence him, while his family and friends try to begin new routines of life, until the day when a group of new, beautiful birds flutters into the camp and resurrects joy in his young heart.

Based on the experiences of a young boy in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this glimpse of the overarching as well as deeply personal, individual losses for refugee children is poignant but not too heavy. Colorful, clay-sculpted illustrations create friendly, engaging visuals as well. Ages 4 and up. Thanks, Canada.

Azzi In Between, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
first published in the UK in 2012; first U.S. edition 2013 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

War in an unnamed Middle Eastern country creeps ever closer to Azzi’s family, then with one pounce drives them from home in a sudden, frantic rush. Azzi flees with her mother and father, but her dear Grandma must stay behind.

Hiding under blankets, driving through darkness, anxiously making their way through checkpoints, racing to an overfilled boat, crossing tumultuous seas — fear and panic engulf each stage of their journey. Next comes the confusion of learning new ways in an utterly new land — new language, new clothes, new etiquette, new everything.

Gradually Azzi grows accustomed to her surroundings, but the separation from Grandma remains so very hard to bear. Their final reunion resolves this story happily, a necessary ingredient for this book’s young audience.

This superb graphic-novel narrative of the refugee experience will immensely help children (and adults) better understand and have compassion for refugees in our midst. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
published in 2016 by Orca Book Publishers

The incredible artwork in this book has been created by a Syrian artist from stones he finds along the Mediterranean coast near his home of Latakia.

Canadian author Margriet Ruurs glimpsed his work on-line and a global collaboration began, resulting in this poignant narrative. Ruurs weaves a simple, poetic account of a young Syrian girl, her happy life grounded at home, harrowing flight from war, and warm welcome to a new land of hope. The depth and spirit of the book come from Nizar Ali Badr’s powerful sculptural pieces. It is remarkable how much emotion is conveyed through his artistic compositions.

An Arabic translation is included along with a lengthy explanation of how the book was created. Inspirational in a number of ways, for ages 5 and up.

The Color of Home, written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2002 by Phyllis Fogelman Books

Hassan is a young Somali refugee, an overwhelmed newcomer in his school. Despite the children’s kindness, there is a dark cloud in his heart and an inability to communicate in those difficult English words.

At painting time, Hassan uses brilliant colors to create a picture of his former home, the sunbaked land and piercing blue sky flooded with light and happiness. When he layers angry strokes of black bullets, bruised purple skies, and snarls of blood red atop this scene, however, his teacher glimpses the pain he carries.

Through the help of a Somali translator, Hassan is able to tell his difficult story and move towards healing. The terror and violence of war are portrayed here, though with some subtlety and a rapid, hopeful resolution. Vibrant watercolor illustrations will draw young children into the story. I’d guess this would suit ages 5 and older but you will need to use your judgement.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival, written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines
published in 2016 by Pajama Press

This stunning book tells the story of Tuan Ho, who at age 6 was forced to flee Vietnam with his mother and sisters.

It was 1981. Tuan’s father, who had worked for the American army as a translator, had fled a year earlier as communist soldiers descended to execute all “enemies of the people.” It was now too dangerous for the family to wait any longer for word from him, and in a hail of bullets, Tuan races away from his home.

His flight would be traumatic: terror, grief, gunfire, strangers, and perilous days adrift at sea. This taut account conveys exceptionally well just what refugee children endure, enlarging our compassion and will to be among those who welcome, comfort, and receive them today.

Deines’ brilliant paintings easily carry the weight of this story and knit our hearts to Tuan’s family. An afterword, accompanied by some personal photographs from Tuan,  provides background to the exodus of the “boat people” from Vietnam and tells more about Tuan’s family’s journey. This picture book is clearly meant for very young children but because of it’s content, I’d encourage you to use your judgement. Probably ages 5 or 6 and up. Again, this one’s from Canada.

The Banana Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
pubished in 2017 by Kids Can Press

Again from Canada, this book is part of the fantastic Citizen Kid series from Kids Can Press. I have reviewed quite a few of these titles over the years.

Deo Rukundo flees from his war-torn home in Burundi only to be separated from his family in the midst of the chaos. He makes his way, barely, to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. There he finds enough food and water to survive, yet also bumps up against tough gangs which have formed and which make life miserable for other boys.

When a man arrives with a whistle round his neck, a real, leather soccer ball, and a plan for these rival boys to play soccer together, Deo initially declines, but his world and relationships are transformed when the coach succeeds in drawing him in.

Highlighting the transformative power of play to help bring healing to children of conflict, this book soars via Shane Evans’ gripping mixed media illustrations, It includes an afterword about the man on whom this story is based and the work of Right to Play and other similar organizations. Ages 7 and up.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom, written by Dia Cha, stitched by Chue and Nhia Thao Cha
published in 1996 by Lee & Low Books in cooperation with the Denver Museum of Natural History

Those of us in the Twin Cities remember well the arrival of thousands of Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia to our bitterly cold state back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most of us knew almost nothing about them let alone the heroic roles many had played on behalf of our own nation. Now we have several Hmong state senators, hundreds who have earned doctorate degrees — yet many still do not really understand all that this people experienced.

This story of one 15-year old’s terrifying journey out of Laos to Thailand and eventually to the United States, dramatically informs us about their sweet life in Laos destroyed by war, the terrors and losses endured, the harrowing journey made, while simultaneously highlighting the incredible artwork of Hmong embroiderers.

The book is illustrated by photographs of an immense, detailed story cloth stitched by the author’s aunt and uncle in a Thai refugee camp. This painful story should be required reading for any Minnesotan as well as those in Denver, Fresno, and elsewhere who rub shoulders with Hmong Americans. Share it with ages 9 and up. The lengthy, fascinating afterword tells more Hmong history and craftsmanship.

Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary, written by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allan
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Mohammed was just six years old when he and his mother were forced to flee for their lives from Kirkuk, Iraq, but the dark times for his family had begun years before that. As ethnic Kurds, members of his family were harassed and killed by the Hussein regime. The last straw was a vicious beating for all, including little Mohammed, and the disappearance of his father at the hands of soldiers.

His harrowing flight was only bearable because there was literally no choice. Mohammed arrived in the UK an emotionally scarred boy, but through the compassion of those welcoming refugees there, he and his mum were able to begin new lives.

This book is part of a series from the UK in which young refugees tell their stories in their own words, accompanied by family photographs and illuminating illustrations. Harsh realities, made accessible to kids ages 10 and up.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees, written by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare
published in 2017 by Annick Press

So many excellent humanitarian titles come from Canadian presses and I’ve tried to highlight this fact today.  I am so thankful for this Canadian priority. Here’s a final one for today.

In a book geared towards older readers, probably ages 10 and older, Mary Beth Leaderdale unfolds the distressing, true stories of five children over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries who have fled persecution.

Ruth is a Jewish girl who fled Naziism by boat to Cuba. Phu is a Vietnamese boy who fled the communists as one of the “boat people” in the crisis of the 1970s. José fled Cuba in the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Najeeba is an ethnic Hazara who fled Afghanistan for Australia. Mohamed left the Ivory Coast as an orphan and eventually crossed the Mediterranean from Libya.

Their stories are wrenching, with many shocking details spelled out. They bear the grit of reality and spare few punches for governments who denied or attempted to deny safe harbor to refugees or abused them upon arrival. Succinct background notes on the conflicts the children fled and maps of their journeys help give context. By-the-numbers lists provide bold relief from the longer narratives. Sections telling about the lives each of these kids grew up to lead, provide hope.

It’s an eye-opener for older kids prepared to grapple with painful realities.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, written by Ibtisam Barakat
published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
170 pages

Ibtisam Barakat was just 3-1/2 years old when the Six Day War erupted, displacing, traumatizing, and utterly changing her life, her family, her people. 

Her powerful, gorgeously-written memoir of those childhood experiences brings us into the world of Palestinian refugees with eloquence and sorrow. The profound importance of home and family, the trauma of abandonment and separation, the grief of loss, are remarkably imparted through her lyric prose. 

Understanding the on-going Palestinian heartbreak is critical for us. This year marks 50 years since the Six Day War. That’s an intolerably long time to be displaced, while simultaneously short enough to keep these memories sharp. 

I highly recommend this book for ages 14 through adult. The cultural details are fascinating, and her war-time experiences offer universal insights into the lives of  refugees fleeing other conflicts. It’s catalogued as children’s nonfiction in my library but this is really not a children’s book. War, trauma, memories of a sexual assault, and even some graphic descriptions of her brothers’ circumcisions at ages 7 and 8 — all are written with a measure of subtlety, yet with candor and vigor. They are emotionally challenging. There certainly are those younger than 14 who could handle this book, but I’ll leave that to your discretion.

I’ve reviewed many other excellent books about refugees in the past. I strongly encourage you to find them through these links to earlier posts. 

compassion ought not to be political: read about refugees

sowing seeds of peace and refuge

I’ll highlight a few of those picture book titles here:

The Journey

Refuge

Four Feet Two Sandals

How Many Days to America

And here are links to some chapter books/middle grade novels about the refugee experience, any of which would make a fine read for an adult as well:

The Day My Father Became a Bush (undefined; vaguely European)

Home of the Brave (Sudan)

The House of Sixty Fathers (China)

Inside Out & Back Again (Vietnam)

A Long Walk to Water (Sudan)

The Red Pencil (Sudan)

Join me throughout the rest of the summer for a world tour introducing children to cultures from Greenland to Zimbabwe through fabulous picture books. Just follow the blog to receive notice of these posts via e-mail.
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And spread the word on these excellent resources for growing understanding and compassion by sharing this post via social media or word of mouth!

 

Every season has its splendors. Now’s the time to celebrate the radiance of summer!

Summer is …old-fashioned outdoor playtime!

And Then Comes Summer, written by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Flip-flops and lemonade stands; parades and fireworks; ice-cream cones and swimming; campfires and marshmallows to toast. It’s all here. The jubilant best of summer is on full display in this happy catalogue of summertime. Whet your appetites for summer fun. Ages 2 and up.

Summer is…time for high-dive bravery!

Jabari Jumps, written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Every kid either remembers or anticipates with tummy-flutters their first leap off that talllllll diving board. Jabari and his dad tackle those jitters with aplomb and splashy success in this glad story. I love this book! Share it with ages 2 and up.

Summer is…full of creeping things!

My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis, written and illustrated by Paul Meisel
published in 2017 by Holiday House

A praying mantis keeps a summer journal in this genius book. Beginning with his birth on a beautiful May day, P. Mantis tells us about his favorite foods, his tricky camouflage moves, his molting episodes, and his pretty dastardly habit of…well, you’ll have to read it to believe it. All in his matter-of-fact, engaging voice. Masterful creative nonfiction and nature lore for ages 2 and up.

Summer is…mud pies!

Mud Book: How to Make Pies and Cakes, written by John Cage, illustrated by Lois Long
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press

This pint-sized book contains just two recipes — Mud Pie and Mud Layer Cake; with a variation on the layer cake to turn it into a birthday smash hit. The startling thing is — it was written by avant-garde composer John Cage!!! I was astonished to see this. And illustrated by textile designer Lois Long. In the 1950s. A limited edition print was done in the early 80s by these two. And now you, too, can enjoy this happy, eccentric little piece. Thank you Princeton Architectural Press. A delight for ages 2 and up.

Summer is…camp-outs!

The Camping Trip, written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist, translated by Tara Chace
first published in Sweden in 1992; English edition 2017 by NorthSouth Books

The popular Swedish duo, ol’ Pettson and his cat Findus, are headed for a camp-out. But of course one thing after another goes awry for these two in this silly, affectionate adventure. The Pettson and Findus tales are classic Swedish fare so if you’ve got a Scandinavian bone in your body you really mustn’t miss them. Nordqvist is an excellent storyteller and there is so much additional mayhem in his illustrations for kids to spot. Ages 4 and up.

Summer is…red-white-and-blue Independence Day celebrations!

Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation, written by Kristen Fulton, illustrated by Holly Berry
published in 2017; Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Meet Caroline Pickersgill, a gal who grew up surrounded by women stitching truly historic American flags. In 1812, at age 13, Caroline set to work on the most colossal flag ever. Turns out it was the very one that inspired our national anthem! Read her true story, deftly handled by Kristen Fulton. No draggy sawdust history here. Perky text, with clever inclusions of phrases from the anthem, and bold, dynamic illustrations to match. Lively and patriotic for ages 4 and up. 

Summer is…beach time!

There Might Be Lobsters, written by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

One sweet but timid dog heads to the beach with her owner, Eleanor, but has the dickens of a time due to her boatload of fears. Especially…lobsters. (They do have such pinchy pinchers!) Eleanor does her level best to coax and cajole dear Sukie to join in the beach fun, but it takes a small emergency for Sukie to leap into action. A darling read for ages 3 and up. Dog-lovers, your hearts will melt!

Summer is…bursting with garden produce!

The Children’s Garden: Growing Food in the City, written by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Pierr Morgan
published in 2017 by little bigfoot, an imprint of sasquatch books

Bursting with all the colors of luscious summer fruits and veggies, this book has a lovely old-fashioned feel to it. It’s the breezy account of a garden tended by kids in one Seattle neighborhood. Turning the earth, planting the seeds, watering, harvesting, weeding and resting is all happier when it’s done with a group of friends.  Inviting and inspirational for ages 3 and up.

There are lots more great summer reads in the Orange Marmalade archives. Find them by clicking on the Subject tab, then scrolling down to Seasons.

 

It’s time for summer adventures, summer breaks from routines, and hopefully some terrific summer reading!

Once again I’m posting info about free Summer Reading Incentive Programs because — who does not want to win prizes?!?! My kids loved participating in their library programs over the summer and winning free stuff by doing what they loved anyhow, reading. Such a deal!

If I’ve missed a great program you know of, please tell us about it in the comments.

1. Your local library — Libraries around the Twin Cities offer great prizes for reading, plus all the books you could ever want free for the taking with that magical library card. I’ll bet your library has something great cooking for summer, so head on down to your local library first.

2. Read any 8 books and complete a simple reading journal to receive a free book from Barnes and Noble.  Download a journal and  locate a store near you at the link here (you have to scroll down the page a bit.) You can also see which books are being offered as prizes by downloading the journal.

3. Read books, take short online quizzes, and earn prizes from Sylvan Learning. Find out all about their Book Adventure program here

4. The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge always features a lollapalooza of a website crackling with exciting whatsits. Read and log minutes, unlock activities, earn rewards, and enter for a chance at a Klutz book (always so fun!) Find out more here

5. Half Price Books’ Feed Your Brain program (love that title) has kids logging their reading time to earn Bookworm Bucks. Find our more here

6. Read every day for two weeks and win tokens for games at Chuck E Cheese. The English reading chart is here and the Spanish version is here. You do have to order food to redeem those tokens.

7. If you’ve got a Books a Million store near you (Twin Citians, we don’t) you can read to win a Maze Runner water bottle. Geared for middle graders and up. That program is here.

8. Teens can download a free audio book — actually two free audiobooks! — each week with the Sync program from Audiofile. Learn all about the program here.

9. Those of you in the Twin Cities, march yourselves down to the Red Balloon Bookshop on Grand Avenue and pick up a bingo card for their Summer of Reading Without Walls program. Read books about folks different from yourself, fill in the bingo board, and bring the card in for a prize. 

I’ll be blogging all summer. I’ve got a tour of the world cooked up for you, plus gobs of great picture books, fascinating nonfiction, some excellent titles for World Refugee Day, and if I get time enough I’ll let you know what chapter books tickle my fancy. If you don’t want to miss a post, just Follow the Blog and you’ll be notified via e-mail. 

Each of today’s picture books features fairly ordinary animal fare — dogs, ducks, wolves, a groundhog — but that’s the end of the commonplace as we pull out the stops on creativity and have some good fun!

Beginning with…

Little Wolf’s First Howling, written by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Introducing one wolf pup and his irrepressible personality which bubbles up at the most surprising moments!

Tonight is a red-letter night for Little Wolf. It’s his first chance to howl at the full moon, to unleash that mournful AAAAAOOOOOOOOOOOOO! from mountaintop into starry skies. Big Wolf gives him a demonstration howl, then turns things over to the cub.

But what comes out is a dancing, prancing mixture of wolf and scat singer! Howls punctuated by diddily skedaddily bipping and boppitting!

Try as he might to lasso this thing, swirls of razzamatazz jazz just can’t stay out of Little Wolf’s howl. And you know what they say: If you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em!

A singing, swinging good time full of primal howls and prime beats, this one begs for gleeful participation from ages 2 and up.

Frankie, written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Frankie is the new eager-beaver pup just adopted from the shelter and headed for his new home.

He is greeted there…well, not exactly greeted…let’s say he encounters there the old, I’ve-been-here-awhile-sonny-and-don’t-you-forget-it dog, Nico. Nico is not amused by this new family member, least of all when Frankie enthusiastically tries to play with his toys and occupy his bed. Grrr.

It’s looking a bit bleak for Frankie when — surprise! — he receives his very own welcome-home-package from the family. Suddenly, it’s Nico who wants in on this sharing business!

With minimal text, almost entirely confined to thought bubbles for the two dogs, this could make a vibrant, untraditional early reader as well as a read-aloud that kids will memorize quickly and enjoy “reading” again and again by themselves. Doggy cheer, for ages 2 and up.

A Greyhound a Groundhog, written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

It’s nearly impossible, I think, to capture the essence of this book in a paragraph of mere words. The waltz of text and illustration which create a virtual whirlpool of dog, groundhog, and higgledy-piggledy language just won’t sit still long enough for that!

Suffice it to say that we start off with one staid, sleeping greyhound and one small, peeping groundhog and, just as an old-fashioned merry-go-round gradually picks up speed, the rhythmic text and racing, chasing creatures slowly, then wildly spin and churn themselves into a dizzying circle of mixed up animalia!

It’s a tongue-twisting, breathless blast of fun, brilliantly illustrated in surging, streaming, joyful abandon. Enjoy it with ages 4 and up. Older readers especially may appreciate the fanciful wordplay in this one.

On Duck Pond, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall
published in 2017 by The Cornell Lab Publishing Group

We’re quieting way down here, drifting back into the realm of reality, of quiet marshes with their water-loving populations of herons, frogs, and ducks.

Jane Yolen has written a lovely narrative-poem about a morning’s walk by Duck Pond, witnessing the small dramas of wildlife there. Ducks chittering. Water spattering. Turtles slipping from logs into the murky depths. Gangly-legged herons and quicksilver minnows, skitterish frogs and a shy bunny in the grasses, all play their parts in this hushed spectacle.

Taking the time to pause and absorb the flurries of panic, the calming of waters, the noiseless stillness, the hidden lives in this one small piece of nature, Yolen awakens us to these spellbinding communities, to the allure of nature’s small theaters.

I love this book and its appealing call to slow down and observe the natural world. Handsomely illustrated with watercolor scenes bathed in the rosy glow of dawn, the book includes back pages of information about specific ducks, birds, and other animals seen in the pictures. Share this window to wonder with ages 3 and up.

Animal Colors and More, written and illustrated by Katie Viggers
published in 2017 by POW!

I’ve loved Katie Viggers’ work in her previous books including Almost an Animal Alphabet, reviewed here.

Once again, the exquisite line, charm, humor, delicacy, and unexpectedness in this book about colors leaves me smitten.

Explore colors and patterns through pages of brilliant animal illustrations, plus have some fun naming colors, matching pairs, and naming species via the artwork on the endpapers in this engaging little book.

If I had toddlers, I’d snap up all 3 of Viggers’ books — alphabet, numbers, and colors. They are that good! Ages 15 months and up.

As promised, here’s my list of the best under-100-pages chapter books I’ve read in the past months.

Be sure to check the Title index for 50 more great easy chapter books — some of my all-time favorites are already there!

I’ve tried to list these in a semblance of order from easiest (largest print, most space devoted to pictures) to most challenging (similar in difficulty to any chapter book but under 100 pages.)

Boris Gets a Lizard, written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2011 by Scholastic
72 pages

The Boris books, coming to us out of Australia, are a complete delight. Colorful, energetic, friendly, heavily-illustrated, and perfectly suited to both boys and girls. Each one has a little craft project to go with the story. Click here to read more about this jaunty series.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton
published in 2016 by Tundra Books
64 pages

This graphic-novel style book is predominantly visual, loaded with cheer and energy. Its ocean-dwelling characters sparkle with personality and the text incorporates some jazzy puns. Short, snappy, silly, but with cool science facts and an appeal to imagination tossed in for good measure. It’ll be a hit with older beginning readers as well. Sequel coming.

 

Agnes and Clarabelle and Agnes and Clarabelle Celebrate,  written by Adele Griffin and Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Sara Palacios
both published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
73 pages

Agnes the pig and Clarabelle the chick are two dear friends who support, cheer, and thoroughly enjoy one another all year long. Sweet, happy adventures, easily-solved problems, and sunny, perky illustrations make up these gems.

The Princess in Black, written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
89 pages

The first in a dynamic series starring Princess Magnolia who chafes at prim and proper and thrills to action and heroics!  When the monster-alarm goes off, Magnolia ditches the tea and crumpets, dons her black super-hero outfit, and blitzes to the rescue! Brilliantly illustrated, captivating stories.

Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog, written by Peter Meisel, illustrated by Paul Meisel
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
73 pages

Spike is an enthusiastic dog with a keen appreciation for stuff that stinks! Working on the docks suits him perfectly, then, with all those fishy, seaweedy, scaley smells wafting in on the ocean breezes. Spike’s dockhand adventures take a wild turn when he’s washed out to sea and encounters sharks, whales, and a passel of pirates! Jolly good story, heaps of space devoted to jaunty illustations, large print, and at least one more Spike story available. Yo ho ho!

The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, written by Judy Blume, illustrated by Amy Aitken
published in 1981 by Yearling, Random House
39 pages

A darling, now-vintage read from one of the greats, Judy Blume, celebrating the specialness of that oft-overlooked middle child. Warm, happy, and really short. This makes a great transition away from the brightly-colored, illustration-heavy pages of some of the earlier titles on the list.

The Magician’s Boy, written by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Serena Riglietti
published in 2005 by Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster
100 pages

Award-winning novelist Susan Cooper has written this delightful, short fantasy, polka-dotted with famous nursery story characters yet ratcheted up into an adventure worthy of kids in elementary grades. Fantastic writing, engagingly- formatted, with cool illustration work. Large print and plenty of white space make this one unimposing.

Maybelle in the Soup, written by Katie Speck, illustrated by Paul Rátz de Tagyos
published in 2007 by Henry Holt and Company
58 pages

My years in West Africa certainly didn’t make me susceptible to falling in love with a cockroach! But the irrepressible Maybelle won me over in a heartbeat anyway!

Maybelle is “a lovely, plump cockroach” who lives alongside her best bud Henry the Flea in the posh household of the most persnickety of folks, Myrtle and Herbert Peabody. This story zings along with the slapstick comedy of Laurel and Hardy. Large-ish print interspersed with gray scale illustrations. A hilarious, lively choice and there are several Maybelle sequels.

The Infamous Ratsos, written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers
published in 2016 by Candlewick
57 pages

Two rat brothers, Louie and Ralphie, aim to be tough, tough, tough like their dad, but accidentally keep doing good deeds instead! Funny, full of moxie and heart, and not a bit cutesy. Large print, but black-and-white illustrations give it a more mature feel. Great choice for reluctant readers.

Busybody Nora, written by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Debbie Tilley
published in 1976 by Harper Trophy (illustrations copyright 2001)
96 pages

A delightful vintage read set in a New York City apartment building with one extroverted child determined to build a community out of her disparate neighbors. Spunk, neighborliness, resourcefulness, and joy. A sprinkling of full-page, black-and-white illustrations break up the large-print text.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot — Anna Bradford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
first published in Australia; first U.S. edition 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
102 pages

Violet is an imaginative, loving girl whose attempts at self-sufficiency sometimes backfire and sometimes achieve brilliant results. I was rooting for her from page one. I love that this story revolves around family, and a warm, single-parent, working-hard-to-keep-up-with-the-bills family at that. Large-ish print, b&w illustrations, and several sequels.

More Stories Julian Tells, written by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell
published in 1986 by Random House
82 pages

The Julian stories by Ann Cameron are some of my favorites. See my review of the first in this series here. This volume contains five more tales about this wonderful boy, his little brother, Huey, and best friend, Gloria. So much warmth, good humor, and real childhood crafted by a talented writer. I’m posting an older version of the cover as I like it so much better than the newer ones. The interior illustrations by Ann Strugnell are top-notch. Huey, Gloria, and even the dog also have titles from their point of view so search for more in your library.

Mouse Scouts, written and illustrated by Sarah Dillard
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
105 pages

The Mouse Scouts is like Brownies for mice and this little troop is hard at work earning their Sow It and Grow It badge. Heaps of cuteness, a spice of adventure, clever pages from the Mouse Scout Handbook, sequels featuring different badge pursuits, and on-line activity pages make this series especially suited to girls ages 5-9.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes, written by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad
first published in 1961; republished by New York Review Children’s Collection in 2010
56 pages

This vintage charmer is a cookbook for dolls. It’s comprised of dozens of recipes to be happily concocted in the out-of-doors with ingredients harvested by the cooks — dandelions, seed pods, rainwater, minced grass.

Illustrated impeccably with Blegvad’s masterful pen-and-ink lines, it’s a lovely summons to imaginative outdoor play that will never grow old so long as children aren’t lulled into catatonic states via virtual electronic games. Challenging vocabulary but heavily illustrated. Hand it to an advanced young reader and send ’em outside.

Wolfie and Fly, written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si
published in 2017 by Tundra Books
86 pages

Renata Wolfman, aka Wolfie, is a solitary, unemotional gal, a lone wolf. Livingston Floot, aka Fly, is an extroverted, creative fellow.  A chance meeting of these two results in a superbly-imaginative afternoon. A blast of fun and personality with a promised sequel.

Hamster Magic, written by Lynne Jonell, illustrated by Brandon Dorman
published in 2010 by Random House
103 pages

Wishes gone awry. Talking hamsters. Siblings clandestinely coping with magical mayhem. Minnesota author Lynne Jonell’s adventurous tale reads like a junior-size version of Edward Eager’s and E. Nesbit’s stories. Delightful fantasy with several sequels in her Magical Mix-Ups series. Great intro both to Jonell’s other novels or to Eager’s and Nesbit’s classic works.

Mush, A Dog From Space, written by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
text copyright 1995; illustrations copyright 2002; by Aladdin
55 pages

Daniel Pinkwater’s fizzing imagination has brought us so many wacky tales. This short account of Kelly Mangiaro and a talking mushamute from solar system Arfturus is splendid and eccentric. Great choice for older reluctant readers.

Seesaw Girl, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng
published in 1999 by Clarion Books
87 pages

Linda Sue Park has become one of my favorite writers over the years. This was her first children’s novel, I think, and many years ago it was our introduction to her as well, a splendid piece of historical fiction set in 17th century Korea. 

Jade Blossom is the daughter of a noble family and as such has an extremely circumscribed life, tucked away from the eyes of the world in her family’s courtyards, unable to see and experience life outside of those walls. Her yearning to know more and cleverness in doing so are tempered by love and respect for her family and a commitment to bring them no shame.

Great story with mountains of rich detail about this time and place and lovely grey-scale watercolor illustrations.

My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood, written by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Peter Ferguson
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press
62 pages

Rosemary Wells’ narrative of one man’s life growing up in Havana, Madrid, and finally New York City, is redolent with beauty, artistry, home and homesickness, stability and change. The imaginative, poignant way this young boy copes with an abrupt move to the United States as his family flees the Castro regime, inspires both endurance and empathy.

I fell in love with this true story and its rich illustrations. A superb choice to read aloud as well. Enjoy it, and then if you live in Minneapolis, go out for a fine Cuban breakfast at Victor’s 1959 Cafe. Yum.

The No 1 Car Spotter and The No 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird — by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
first published in Great Britain; published in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012 by Kane Miller
110 and 94 pages

Written by the same phenomenal author as the Anna Hibiscus stories, these delightful, lively tales follow a young ingenious boy, his family, his friendships, life’s adventures, ups and downs, in his Nigerian village. Crammed with local flavor, resourcefulness, community and life! Funky, spirited illustration work brings it even more pep. More sequels are available.

The Pai-Pai Pig, written by Joy Anderson, illustrated by Jay Yang
published in 1967  by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
48 pages

Here’s an out-of-print title that has retained its appeal. The story is set in Taiwan in the late 1950s. It was written by an American woman who lived there for a number of years and illustrated by a Taiwanese artist in evocative black ink drawings.

Pai-pai is the enormously festive celebration of Buddha’s birthday and the rich cultural detail here easily transports us to another culture. Although Taiwan itself has certainly changed, the chance to appreciate and delight in others’ ways of life is evergreen. A winning story if you’re able to find it at a large library as I did.

Candle Tales, written by Julia Cunningham, illustrated by Evaline Ness
published in 1964 by Random House
60 pages

Here’s another vintage story that’s aged surprisingly well. A small band of animals — squirrel, pig, dog, cat, mouse, and gull — note that crotchety Mr. Minikin owns hundreds of jolly birthday candles yet seems to be in need of a party. The six of them set about earning the candles for the surprise they’re concocting by telling stories. Original stories, all set in verse.

As the storytelling proceeds, a lovely warmth and camaraderie settles over Mr. Minikin and his household. Surprisingly modern rhythms and internal rhyming in the animals’ story-poems read almost like slam poetry in places. It’s a cheerful, funny, warmhearted read for those of you who can find a copy.

Starring Grace, written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
published in 2000 by Puffin Books
95 pages

Grace is an imaginative, warmhearted, honest girl whom some of you may have met in a couple of beloved picture books. This is the first of several chapter books starring Grace.  It’s crammed with creative play, respectful relationships, enthusiasm for life — what’s not to love about Grace?  Full page graphite drawings are sprinkled into the text.

Family Reminders, written by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by John Shelley
published in 2009 by Charlesbridge
101 pages

Don’t judge this one by its cover, please. Inside is an absorbing story set in the gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado back in the 1890s. When Mary McHugh’s father is injured

in a mine accident, the family’s prospects are grim and the mood in their once-merry household just as depressing. Mary’s resolve to help her family through this tough time and the serendipitous way she discovers a new means for her father to flourish are heartening and will resonate with many children.

John Shelley’s interior illustrations are vigorous and arresting.

Clancy’s Cabin, written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Barbara Steadman
first published in 1975; first U.S. edition 1995 by The Overlook Press
95 pages

I’m hoping to introduce you to Margaret Mahy, so this is the first of two stories by her in today’s list. This one’s an old-fashioned adventure with a pinch of Famous Five flavor, set in Mahy’s homeland, New Zealand. Siblings spending a summer holiday on their own in an old cabin on Clancy’s farm — what kid would not hanker after that? Introduce a hidden treasure and we’re off on a zesty journey! Great for boys or girls, and a happy read-aloud as well.

Lola Levine Is Not Mean, written by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company
88 pages

Lola Levine is a great multi-cultural character with a Jewish father and a Latino-Catholic mom. She’s a sporty gal who loves to play soccer, gets along best with boys, struggles to fit in with the 2nd-grade girls, loves to write, and is certainly NOT mean. This is the first in a series starring a girl I’d love to know.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!, written by Steve Voake, illustrated by Jessica Meserve
first published in the UK; first US edition 2008 by Candlewick
98 pages

A treat of a story incorporating magical-realism. Daisy Dawson is a tender-hearted animal-lover. One day, with the swish of a butterfly’s wings, she’s also able to understand and talk to animals! This sweeps her into all manner of happy, helpful intrigues with everyone from ants to dogs. Absolutely charming. Several sequels are available.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
first published in 1985; this edition by Puffin Books in 1998
79 pages

Roald Dahl’s riotous absurdity reigns in this short tale of one small boy dreaming of owning a sweet-shop to end all sweet-shops, and the spectacular Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company who are about to make their fortunes off of the 677 windows of Hampshire House. It gets crazier than you can imagine. Illustrated in full careening glory by Quentin Blake. A couple of “damnations” and “By Gad’s!” are included, courtesy of the excitable old Duke, for those who want to know. Fantastic fun, liberally sprinkled with Glumptious Globgobblers and other challenging vocabulary.

Tingleberries, Tuckertubs, and Telephones, written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Robert Staermose
published in 1995 by Viking
96 pages

Speaking of riotous ridiculousness — Margaret Mahy was a genius at concocting cockamamie stories! This gem stars Saracen Hobday, a lad so shy he feels like “a limp lettuce leaf in the great salad of life.” And his bold as brass granny who hasn’t exactly fully retired from the detective business. And a wicked pirate named Grudge-Gallows. And don’t forget those tingleberries and tuckertubs. Immensely diverting! With boisterous ink drawings. If you don’t know Mahy, this is your golden opportunity to discover her. Such a snappy read-aloud!

Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep, written by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
text first published in 1937; illustrations copyright 2000; this edition published in 2017 by Candlewick
96 pages

Pure joy! This classic fairy story by one of the masters of children’s literature is gorgeously packaged with airy, spritely illustrations by Charlotte Voake on lovely, creamy paper, and bound in a charming size. Perfect.

It’s the story of little Elsie Piddock who can skip rope as never so! In fact, she’s a born skipper. So much so that Andy Spandy, the fairy ruler, invites her for magical skipping lessons by the light of the new moon atop Mount Caburn. What’s accomplished by Elsie by means of her pluck and jumping rope — well you just have to read it to believe it. A marvelous David-and-Goliath tale, spun like sugar candy. Lengthy with some challenging dialect. A fine read-aloud.

Marzipan Day on Bridget Lane, written by Sylvia Cassedy, illustrated by Margot Tomes
published in 1967 by Doubleday and Company
62 pages

Marzipan Annie lives on Bridget Lane, “the narrowest lane in all of England” and there she whips up the most wonderful marzipan. “Marzipan gold as the beak of a daw, marzipan pink as the nose of a mouse, marzipan green as the eye of a cat, marzipan white as the throat of a goose.” Her tiny home overflows with confections so fine, they’re fit only for a king.

But does the king ever visit Bridget Lane? No, he does not. Marzipan Annie’s friends — although not royalty — would be happy to indulge themselves on her candies. The warmhearted solution to all of this will leave you cheering.

This delightful story, illustrated by the amazing Margot Tomes, really deserves to be brought back into print. I wish it were more accessible to you all, but perhaps a few of you will score and find a copy.  Challenging vocabulary.

Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight, written by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, illustrated by Elise Gravel
published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
98 pages

Science-fiction/fantasy is such a welcome genre in early chapter books. Archie’s dad drives a taxi — through outer space! On Archie’s first ride-along, adventures spring up at every turn! New planets! Alien bad-guys! Undercover cats! A rollicking read with a number of sequels.

Lulu and the Hamster in the Night, written by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
published in 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company
97 pages

The Lulu books are some of my top-favorite early chapter books. I’ve reviewed a couple of these before but want to draw your attention to them again. Lulu is a dear, warm-hearted, animal-loving gal whose good intentions keep landing her in chaotic situations! Funny and tender, with a diverse cast of characters. I love Lulu!

Sprout Street Neighbors: A New Arrival, written and illustrated by Anna Alter
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
110 pages

As you see, I cheated on this page count. It’s definitely over 100 pages. However — the Sprout Street stories fit perfectly with these early chapter books. Their trim size and plentiful illustrations make the pages nicely accessible. Charming stories about a plucky group of friends who solve their problems with affection and aplomb. Love them! This is the second volume. I reviewed the first one here.

The Happy Orpheline, written by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
published in 1957 by Harper & Row
96 pages

The stories of the Orphelines in France begin here, not with 12 little girls in two straight lines, but with 20 little girls all happy as can be to belong to one another, to be one great family along with their caretakers, Madame Flattot and Genevieve. An outing to the pet cemetery to see the regal headstone of Zezette, a beloved former pet, results in one child getting lost, then meeting a wacky woman who thinks herself the Queen of France. She’ll careen along on a hair-raising moped ride and let dozens of dogs loose in the market before finally, joyfully being reunited with all those happy orphelines.

It’s quite a tale! My girls loved this when they were young. There are several sequels. Garth Williams’ lively line drawings decorate the pages magnificently. Some French words and place names will challenge young readers.

Sable, written by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Marcia Sewall
published in 1994 by Henry Holt and Company
81 pages

Karen Hesse is a brilliant writer and this short book shines with her superb craftsmanship. A tender tale of Tate and her loyal love for the stray dog, Sable, this one will touch the heart of animal-lovers. My daughter, Ingrid, would have read it a dozen times when she was small if I’d known about it.

A Picture for Marc, written by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
published in 2007 by Random House
98 pages

A brilliant, fictionalized biography of Marc Chagall, this short book is rich with insights into the meaning and value of art. Think of it as My Name is Asher Lev for elementary children. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Hand it to children who don’t need zip-zow action, especially those with artistic souls.

Rickshaw Girl, written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2007 by Charlesbridge
79 pages + glossary

Mitali Perkins is a Kolkata-born author who writes wonderful multicultural titles for children. This is the story of Naima who longs to help her family economically but is hindered by her gender. Inspirational and packed with rich cultural details. Children will need to make use of the illustrated glossary to understand some Bangla words. Graphite drawings help immensely in picturing the setting.

Belling the Tiger; The Great Rebellion; Siri the Conquistador — written by Mary Stolz, illustrated by Beni Montresor
published in 1961 and 1963 by Harper & Brothers
64, 63, and 51 pages

Mary Stolz won a Newbery Honor in 1962 for the first title in this adventurous series. Asa and Rambo, two plucky mice, are originally charged with belling Siri the cat. Three books later, they’ve tamed a tiger, sailed the seas, led a rebellion against an overbearing chief mouse, and faced down their fear of a dog named Maximilian.

These vintage books are illustrated by the fabulous Beni Montresor, but are out of print. Vocabulary and syntax are more challenging than most contemporary titles for this age group. Find them for an advanced younger reader.

A Case in Any Case, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee, translated by Julia Marshall
published in Sweden 2016; first English edition 2017 by Gecko Press
104 pages

This is the third book in a delightful series coming out of Sweden.  I’ve reviewed the first one here. Detective Gordon, a lovable toad with a sizable sweet tooth, has taken a break from police work, leaving his office and Official Stamp to young Buffy, his side-kick, a mouse the size of a cinnamon bun. But when a new case heats up, Detective Gordon just cannot stay off the job. Magnificent personalities, clever storylines, and the fabulous Gitte Spee’s illustration work. Smallish print makes this one a lengthy read.

Basil of Baker Street, written by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone
first published in 1958; this edition 2016 by Aladdin
88 pages

A classic riff on Sherlock Holmes featuring the super-sleuthing mouse, Basil, and his trusty sidekick, Dr. David Q. Dawson. With the huge popularity of all things Sherlockian just now, it’s a great time to introduce kids to this ingenuous detective. Challenging vocabulary, some use of dialect, lovely period, stylized narrative, and Galdone’s fabulous drawings all make this a gem for young, advanced readers. There are several sequels.

House of Dolls, written by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2010 by Harper
61 pages

Despite its recent publication date, this book exudes an antiquated, sophisticated tone in its storytelling, pristine illustrations, and typography. It’s a very pretty book, and its fable-like message of love, loyalty, loneliness, and belonging is teased out beautifully as well. Challenging vocabulary and susbstance. A great choice for precocious readers, with a heavily-feminine feel.

Toys Go Out, written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2006 by Schwartz & Wade
117 pages

Despite its page count, I couldn’t resist including this marvelous, inventive, warm, funny tale of “a knowledgeable stingray, a toughy little buffalo, and someone called Plastic.” If you haven’t met this little crew yet, you ought to. It’s a bit like reading a Pixar movie.

The Better Brown Stories, written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Fritz Wegner
published in 1995 by Viking
97 pages

The topsy-turvy plot in this short novel involves a hulking mechanical dog, maniacal milkman, mysterious kidnappers, a good dog named Timmy, free money, a harassed writer, and endless discombobulation. Intrigued?

The entire, comedic story is a piece of metafiction in which the characters, variously bored, upset, and forgotten by their author, literally rap on his door demanding alterations to the narrative. Which they receive and which never seem to turn out exactly as desired.

It’s a lengthy book, sprinkled with clever line drawings, demanding the ability to follow a convoluted plot and manage lots of Britishisms, but for advanced young readers it’s great fun. Literary references ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the Famous Five to Raymond Briggs’ Snowman are woven subtly into the story.

The Leopard Boy, written by Julia Johnson, illustrated by Marisa Lewis
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
87 pages

Looking for something with international flavor? This suspenseful story, set in Oman, will fill the bill. With its environmental theme, dicey danger, and unusual setting, it’s a great choice for slightly older readers. Very lightly illustrated.

The Marzipan Pig, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published originally in 1986; reissued by The New York Review Children’s Collection
43 pages

Oh so quirky, this series of random events is triggered by the unfortunate fall of a marzipan pig behind the sofa. Sophisticated vocabulary and style, unusual plotting, and small print make this a choice for confident, precocious readers. Quentin Blake’s loose, humorous illustrations and NYRB’s always- gorgeous packaging create great visual appeal.

The Whipping Boy, written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 1986 by Greenwillow Books
89 pages

Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1987, this is an exciting adventure reminscent of Twain’s Prince and the Pauper. The brat of a prince and his whipping boy who bears his every punishment run away from the castle and are ensnared in mistaken identities, surly rogues, medieval fairs, rat-infested sewer systems…phew! A blast for stout readers.

The Dream Stealer, written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 2009 by Greenwillow Books
89 pages

A blockbuster author-and-illustrator team created this exciting tale, festooned with magical realism. Set in a Mexican town, the story is populated with the denizens of nightmares, one very crafty dream-stealer named Zumpango, and an even craftier, stalwart little girl named Susana. Fantastic read for slightly older readers, especially those who’ve tasted and loved Harry Potter or other fantasies.

Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
published in 2000 by Scholastic
75 pages PLUS 20 pages of recipes and an extensive glossary

I love this book, in which a young girl collects fascinating childhood memories from her Latino family members who have grown up in Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru. Each of their stories references a beloved food; authentic recipes for each dish are gathered in the final pages of the book. A lengthy, challenging, and delightful read with an extensive glossary to help out with Spanish terms.

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina
published in 2016 by Candlewick
89 pages

Winner of the 2017 Pura Belpré Award, this book is packed with sunshine, a good dog, a warm family and — it’s set in Bogata, Columbia! I love that!! Juana is another child I’d love to know. She’s quite an optimist except when it comes to learning English — such a tricky language. But her grandfather’s fantastico reward for progress is just the enticement she needs. An unusual format and setting help make this book pure gold. Spanish words are sprinkled in the sophisticated text.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, by Elizabeth Laird, illustrations by Gary Blythe
published in 2006 in the UK; this edition 2008 by Haymarket Books
99 pages

 I tracked this book down through interlibrary loan after I read and admired Laird’s The Fastest Boy in the World, reviewed here. Based on the author’s time living in Beirut during the civil war, this is a poignant story. On display are the traumas, dangers, courage, heartbreak, and generosity of spirit a young girl encounters as she searches for help in a war-torn city. For emotionally-mature readers, it’s a sophisticated but short read.

That’s it. Cream of the crop of what I’ve read since January. But don’t forget to check out the exceptional choices already listed in my Titles Index.

If this post helps you, please share it! I’d love this list to benefit gobs of young readers!

Over the last 5 months, I have been reading stacks upon stacks of short chapter books.

Thousands of pages later, I am ready to bring you a handy list, although what I arrived at is slightly different than where I thought I was going at the start.

My goal to begin with was to hunt down terrific chapter books for fledgling readers who have graduated from leveled easy readers but aren’t quite ready for just any ol’ chapter book. These folks need books that aren’t too daunting.

I didn’t look for books quite this small.

I made an arbitrary rule for myself in order to cut down the enormous number of options I might read: The book had to be under 100 pages. Thus I merrily set out. I discovered a couple of things, though, along the way.

One isn’t really a new discovery: I am not fond of rules.

Therefore I kept breaking my 100 page rule, fudging just a teensy bit here and a teensy bit there. All in all, though, the rule was very beneficial for me as it kept me from reading every single book that screamed at me to check it out. I really, really tried to turn a cold shoulder to the ones over 100 pages!

Me, coming home from the library.

The other thing was — okay this wasn’t really a new discovery either — that 100 page books span the gamut of difficulty, from illustration-heavy, text-minimal, zoopy stories to texts full of challenging vocabulary, complex plots, and almost no illustrations. Short chapter books are not just for budding readers.

Here, then, is my revised list of all the kinds of people that my 100-page-book list is for:

•new graduates of  leveled readers, to be sure

•older readers who struggle with reading or simply aren’t enthused about reading; short is less intimidating

•young-but-advanced readers who may be only 5 but are tearing through books — what can you hand them next?

•readers perfectly capable of tackling the entire Harry Potter series who might want something utterly different to zip through in an hour

•parents/caregivers looking for a short read-aloud

•Kindle-less readers who need something lightweight to tuck in a travel satchel

•children assigned to read x number of pages over summer vacation looking for ideas

In other words, a lot of readers might benefit from short chapter books of varied difficulty, but it’s tough to find them because one can’t search for books by length. The newer series are a cinch to spot, but older or stand-alone titles are tricky to find.

I dug through stacks of out-of-print books and read bundles of brand new books, searching for what I thought were the very best reads. I hunted for variety — animal stories, fantasy, diverse cultures, history, humor. There are still so many excellent titles out there that I missed but I have other reading journeys I’d like to go on so I’m ending this particular voyage and posting the best of what I’ve found tomorrow.

There are lots of easy chapter books already on my blog including some of my very favorite ones. Those are listed with links to their reviews in my Title index so do check them out.

I hope you’ll find something or a lot of things  that are just the right fit for the readers in your life. If you share this post with others, it will make my efforts all the more worthwhile, so please do!

Storytelling is an old craft. Old as humankind.

prehistoric cave art, ennedi plateau, chad

While countless stories have been lost, shrouded in time, we do know some mighty ancient tales that, having been passed down orally for centuries, were written down and later recovered.  It’s mind-boggling, really, to think of the long journey these stories have taken from their original telling to our comfortable, 21st century lives.

13th century Islamic illustration

I started collecting some of them for a blog post and rapidly ran into trouble as it was so hard to resist researching and reading endless numbers of ancient tales from many cultures. In a saner moment I realized I did not really have time to do all of that! So today I’ve got just a few stories coming from the Mesopotamian and Minoan cultures. I hope they entice you to unearth other gems from elsewhere around the globe.

Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War, told by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Jane Ray
published in 2006 by Candlewick Press
73 pages

One of the oldest written stories in the world is this 5000-year-old tale from Ancient Sumer, recorded millennia ago in cuneiform on clay tablets which were discovered and finally deciphered in the 1970s. What an exciting mystery to be part of solving!

Lugalbanda was a prince who eventually became king of the ancient city of Uruk, and father to the hero of another of today’s stories, Gilgamesh.

When his father goes to war for the glory of his kingdom, Lugalbanda, though young and weak, joins the throng of soldiers. His frailty overwhelms him, though, and he is left alone to live or die at the will of the gods. Lugalbanda’s ensuing adventures, recovery, and cunning dealmaking with the monstrous Anzu bird, equip him to play the part of the unlikely hero in this marvelous, eminently readable account.

Jane Ray’s masterful, jewel-like illustration work adds elegance and vitality to every page. Gorgeous! Notes on the story provide fascinating information on Sumer, the archaeological discoveries that brought this civilization to light, and the ancient poems which Henderson has rendered into prose for us. Fantastic, for ages 6-7 and up.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by David Parkins
published in 2003 in the U.S. by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers and the UK by Oxford University Press
95 pages

Another of the oldest of stories is the incredible Epic of Gilgamesh, carved onto stone tablets which “over thousands of years, were smashed into thousands of shards,” then pieced painstakingly together by scholars.

Geraldine McCaughrean’s exceptional retelling of it makes this accessible to readers and listeners ages about 9 and up. We read this aloud when my kids were young. It is riveting stuff, I am telling you!

Immensely strong, godlike in fact, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk was both “a dream and a nightmare” for his people. His great friend, Enkidu, a half-wild, beast of a man, joins him in defeating monstrous Huwawa –Evil Guardian of the Forest — as well as the Bull of Heaven, thus angering the gods. The gods’ ensuing punishment — Enkidu’s death — strikes Gilgamesh to his core, driving him on a quest to discover the meaning of existence, to grapple with sorrow and the reality of mortality.

Heady, rich material, narrated with clarity, flair, and respect. Parkins’ powerful, atmospheric illustrations convey emotion, ancient origins, and the mythical qualities of its characters. This is a long, much more challenging story than Lugalbanda.

The Winged Girl of Knossos, written and illustrated by Erick Berry
originally published in 1933; reissued by Paul Dry Books in 2017
218 pages
on shelves June 13, 2017

The Minoan culture based on Crete preceded the Ancient Greek civilization that is better known to most of us. Mythical King Minos of Knossos would fit into an era around 1700 BC I believe. Please, ancient scholars, correct me if I’m wrong!

In 1934, Erick Berry won a Newbery Honor for his novel mixing the stories of Theseus and the Minotaur, and the inventor Daedalus’ audacious winged-flight, into one exciting adventure. Astonishingly for the time in which it was written, Erick Berry changed the gender of the novel’s hero and Daedalus’ co-conspirator– rather than Icarus, Daedalus’ child is a girl named Inas. The book fell out of print for decades, but is now being reissued thanks to Paul Dry Books.

Inas is an adventurer from top to toe. A sponge diver. A bull-vaulter. A frequent-flyer, experimenting with her father’s massive, newfangled wings as she leaps from cliffs to glide out over the sparkling Aegean Sea. She’s also best friends with King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne.

Our heroine falls into danger from two sides — her father’s reckless experiments raise the hackles of superstitious Minoans, and her assistance to Ariadne in freeing the handsome Greek, Theseus, means she’s in big trouble at the palace as well. Hair-raising moments aplenty move this story along. Gobs of rich detail about the Minoan world are woven in as well.

Despite the girl-power features to this novel, there are some less-than-contemporary moments, but honestly, for its age it reads very well today. I love when these excellent, long-forgotten Newbery Honor books become available. This would make a dandy choice for voracious readers ages 9 and up.

The Hero and the Minotaur: The Fantastic Adventures of Theseus, retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd
published in 2005 by Dutton Children’s Books

For a much more traditional, picture-book-length telling of the Theseus myths, check out this beautiful selection by Robert Byrd. 

His stunning illustrations sparkle from the pages like gems on a necklace as we read of Theseus’ colorful encounters with the strongman Cercyon, Sinis the pine-bender, a brute of an ogre named Sciron, and of course, King Minos’ maze and Minotaur. Icarus makes his ill-fated flight, Ariadne’s crown becomes a constellation, and Theseus forgets about those black sails causing tragedy to cap his tremendous successes.

These myths have stood the test of time for a reason — they are fabulous! Treat your kids, ages 5 and up, to these larger-than-life stories for the ages.

Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology, retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers
48 pages

Ah, Robert Byrd! He creates such magnificent nonfiction for young readers — and older ones like me, too! Here he presents the journeys of Jason in vivid prose and oodles of detailed, stunning illustrations.

In his introduction, Byrd describes Jason’s tale as “full of wonders: not only a flying sheep, but also fire-breathing bulls, a many-headed monster, a serpent who never sleeps, and men turned into beasts. Greedy kings hungry for power and riches, murderous queens, scheming magicians, and a wondrous ship to brave the dangers of the high seas.” Well! Need I say more? I think not. Irresistible.

From his superb maps decorating the endpapers, to the cameos of famous Argonauts, through epic battles with harpies and those warriors sprouting up from the soil — Byrd’s colorful, imaginative, impeccable illustrations pull us into this world at every turn of the page. Sidebars highlight the various gods who are mentioned in the briefly-narrated stages of the quest.

If you want your kids to fall in love with Greek mythology, do not pass go, do not collect $200…just get this book. Ages 5 and up.

 

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