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Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
E.B. White. His name instantly evokes a response of warmth and nostalgia; of miracles and true friends; of a loquacious cob and his atypical, trumpet-playing son; of so many enthralling moments, lost in story.
I don’t have many distinct elementary school memories, but one that stands out is my third-grade teacher reading Charlotte’s Web to us. How many thousands of children have that shared experience?
A few years ago, I was chatting with a young married couple who were exploring children’s literature in anticipation of their firstborn. They were reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to one another, dumbfounded by the depth, poignancy, and truth in this small novel.
Who was E.B. White?
What kind of childhood did he have?
Where did his bucolic scenes of farm life come from, his genuinely amusing characters, as well as those honestly mourning over loss?
How did he get started writing and who helped shape his style?
Melissa Sweet has written a fascinating account of White filling in for us the background of this beloved writer and the stories we love. It’s absolutely crammed with the beauty, wonder, color, and whimsy of everything Sweet puts her hand to.
Quotes and excerpts from letters and essays, old family photos, marked-up and crossed-out early versions of manuscripts — all that is here. Add the choice bits of ephemera, singing colors, vintage papers, charming hand-lettering and a bit of old Corona typewriting, all spun together with Sweet’s remarkable savvy for composition — what you get is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.
This is not a picture book. That is coming in the Fall of 2017 by the ace team of Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo and I cannot wait!
No, this is a meaty biography that adults will thoroughly enjoy as well as would-be authors ages perhaps 11 and up.
If you’ve not read White’s books for yourself, now is the time to do so. Begin with Charlotte’s Web, and no it doesn’t count if you’ve watched the movie. Then check out The Trumpet of the Swan. My least favorite of his trio is Stuart Little — it seems to be a book people either love or really dislike, so tackle that one last. Once you’re enamored with White’s storytelling and wordsmithing, join the rest of us in Melissa Sweet’s lovely biography.
Here’s the Amazon link: Some Writer
Beetle Boy, by M.G. Leonard, illustrations by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Chicken House, Scholastic
It all starts with the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Bartholomew Cuttle, an enigmatic, punctilious scientist who enters the collection vaults in the Natural History Museum one ordinary day, and *poof* disappears.
12-year-old Darkus Cuttle, his son, is taken in by his uncle, Professor Maximilian Cuttle, a kind, honest, if slightly distracted archaeologist. All well and good BUT! what can have happened to his father? Despite what the detectives and journalists insinuate, Darkus is certain foul play is involved. His father would never abandon him. So where is he?
The answers to Darkus’s questions come from the most extraordinary sources beginning with a large-ish black beetle, eyes glistening like blackberries, sporting a pointy horn and capable of some downright terrifying hissing. Oh, and it understands human language. Comes when called. Darkus names him Baxter.
Baxter turns out to be just one of a whole collection of intelligent super-beetles, genetically altered in a sinister plot by the Cruella DeVille-esque Lucretia Cutter. Truly someone worth hissing about! Darkus and Baxter team up with a pair of new friends and a veritable army of phenomenal insects, but the clock is ticking. Can they find his father, plus defeat Lucretia, her sinister staff, and a pair of odious, ghoulish neighbors, in time to prevent her diabolical scheme?
This is the fast-paced first novel in a new trilogy with loud echoes of Dr. Who and Roald Dahl and a pinch of Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series. With its fiendish, outlandish characters, crisp, polished prose, and relentless tension, it’s a sterling beginning. I know — super-beetles sound unpalatable to you. Believe me, though — you will love these guys! Their jeweled beauty and extraordinary abilities will make you not only cheer for their valor, but turn a newly-appreciative eye on their counterparts in the real, marvelous, curious world of beetles.
My U.S. copy did not have any of Júlia Sardà’s great illustrations, which is too bad. But an added Entomologist’s Dictionary helps readers understand terms used, from Coloeptera to transgenic. I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it for ages 10 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: Beetle Boy
And consider this…
A fantastic pairing would be Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s gorgeous nonfiction book, A Beetle Is Shy. After reading about these amazing creatures’ sci-fi adventures in Beetle Boy, gazing at their true beauty and learning some amazing facts from this book will certainly appeal.
Here’s the Amazon link: A Beetle is Shy
This is my second year giving out the Orange Marmalade Juicy Book Awards.
There are plenty of august review committees naming the best illustrated or all-around best books published in the past year and I love seeing who garners those prestigious awards.
My goal is to highlight books that epitomize some core values of my blog and draw attention to them. Each title is linked to my original review and has an Amazon link.
With buckets of thanks and heartfelt admiration for the authors, illustrators, and publishing teams, here are the Orange Marmalade Juicies for 2016.
The Juiciest: This is My Dollhouse
Giselle Potter consistently delivers stories commending imagination. This book is proof that creating it yourself with tape, scissors, and the odd bits and bobs makes playtime juicier.
Amazon link: This is My Dollhouse
Oh-So-Juicy: Secret Tree Fort
Amazon link: Secret Tree Fort
Oh-So-Juicy: Captain Jack and the Pirates
Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury/Dial Books
Amazon Link: Captain Jack
The Juiciest: Dragonfly Kites
Tomson Highway and Julie Flett/Fifth House Publishers
I love this narrative of a First Nations family summering in the great out-of-doors along with all the delights of a simple, nature-filled life. Julie Flett’s illustrations are utterly captivating as usual.
Amazon link: Dragonfly Kites
Lauren Stringer/Beach House Books
Amazon Link: Yellow Time
Oh-So-Juicy: Finding Wild
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Abigail Halpin/Knopf Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: Finding Wild
The Juiciest: The Journey
Francesca Sanna/Flying Eye Books
Probably my favorite book of the year, Sanna’s piercing elucidation of the refugee experience stuns me every time I look at it. Brilliant, relevant, and world-expanding.
Amazon Link: The Journey
Oh-So-Juicy:We Came to America
Faith Ringgold/Knopf Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: We Came to America
Oh-So-Juicy:Mabrook: A World of Muslim Weddings
Na’ima B. Robert and Shirin Adl/Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Amazon Link: Mabrook
The Juiciest:The White Cat and the Monk:A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”
Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith/Groundwood Books
The aesthetics of this quiet story are stupendous. Text and illustration work together to shine a gentle light on solitude, thoughtfulness, and purpose. Extraordinary.
Amazon Link: The White Cat
Oh-So-Juicy: You Belong Here
M.H. Clark and Isabelle Arsenault/Compendium
Amazon Link: You Belong Here
Oh-So-Juicy: Cricket Song
Anne Hunter/HMH Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: Cricket Song
The Juiciest: A Year of Borrowed Men
Michelle Barker and Renne Benoit/Pajama Press
Kindness soothes the world. This story of kindness towards enemies and kindness at great cost is particularly heart-warming and inspiring.
Amazon Link: Borrowed Men
Oh-So-Juicy: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman:A Story about Knitting and Love
Michelle Edwards and G. Brian Karas/Schwartz&Wade
Amazon Link: Mrs. Goldman
Oh-So-Juicy: How to Share with a Bear
Eric Pinder and Stephanie Graegin/Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: How to Share
Love for the Earth
The Juiciest:This is the Earth
Diane Z. Shore, Jessica Alexander and Wendell Minor/HarperCollins
Restoration and sustenance of the health, glory, and sheltering capacity of our planet is one of the issues that moves me most. I love the vision set forth in this gorgeous, hopeful book.
Amazon Link: This is the Earth
Oh-So-Juicy: Otters Love to Play
Jonathan London and Meilo So/Candlewick
Amazon Link: Otters
Oh-So-Juicy: The Bear Report
Thyra Heder/Harry N. Abrams
Amazon Link: Bear Report
And this year’s Ten Extras…in which I squeeze in a few books that don’t fit in my categories but I can’t resist recognizing:
Most Captivating Portrait of Jesus:
Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus
John Hendrix/Harry N. Abrams
Amazon Link: Miracle Man
Hurrah! You Put a Nursing Mom in a Picture Book:
Let’s Go to the Hardware Store
Anne Rockwell and Melissa Iwai/Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: Hardware Store
Best Old Book I Discovered This Year:
An Episode of Sparrows
Rumer Godden/New York Review Children’s Collection
Amazon Link: Episode of Sparrows
Loveliest Vision of Community Transformation
The Night Gardener
Terry Fan and Eric Fan/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: The Night Gardener
Nobody Likes a Goblin
Ben Hatke/First Second
Amazon Link: Goblin
Most Likely to Get a Smile from J.R.R. Tolkien
Du Iz Tak?
Amazon Link: Du Iz Tak
Most Thought-provoking Depiction of Strength
Kate Hoefler and Jonathan Bean/HMH Books for Young Readers
Amazon Link: Real Cowboys
Best Secret Tunnel Ever
The Secret Subway
Shana Corey and Red Nose Studio/Schwartz&Wade
Amazon Link: Secret Subway
Swizzliest Display of the Joys of Reading
A Child of Books
Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston/Candlewick
Amazon Link: Child of Books
Most Vivid Voice for Freedom
Don’t Cross the Line
Bernardo Carvalho and Isabel Minhos Martins/Gecko Press
Amazon Link: Don’t Cross the Line
Yes, winter is here. The days are cold and dark. But the warmth of human kindness goes with wintertime, hand in glove, in today’s wonderful stories.
The Branch, written by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
published in 2016 by Kids Can Press
Wintertime snows and howling winds are terribly exciting. Ice storms coat the world with a shimmer that dazzles in sunlight.
…heavy ice and raucous winds can be scary, too. They break this little girl’s favorite branch off her tree; break her heart also, since she’s lost her lovely perch — a spy base, fairy castle, shelter for all sorts of playtime.
You can’t glue a branch back on a tree, but Mr. Frank, her sturdy, kindhearted, neighbor, has a whip-smart plan for how to help that branch reach it’s full potential!
Watch this dear pair apply a hefty helping of elbow grease to turn misfortune to a windfall. Pratt’s brazen colors make this one dance! His shards of ice, red flannel warmth and tender, intergenerational duo are full of zest. Such a hopeful, happy story, for ages 3 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: The Branch
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, written by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
published in 2016 by Schwartz & Wade Books
I am smitten with this book.
And it’s another intergenerational wintertime story! Mrs. Goldman and Sophia have a thing going for one another dating back to Sophia’s birth when dear Mrs. Goldman knitted her a sweet, tiny, hat to keep her wee noggin warm.
Sophia is much, much bigger now. Looks about six years old. She has big responsibilities to match, too, as the official pompom-maker for all of Mrs. Goldman’s hats. That’s a lot of pompoms because Mrs. Goldman is like a knitting warrior, knitting hats for all sorts and sizes of people. It’s her mitzvah, her good deed.
When Mrs. Goldman gives her own hat away to a needy friend, Sophia determines to knit a hat, start-to-finish, for her dear friend. This is not so easy. It takes pluck and creativity to pull off such a marvelous good deed.
Oh my goodness. The end result of Sophia’s loving efforts is enough to gladden the gloomiest of hearts! Karas’s soft, tender illustrations, his chalky, muted colors punctuated by those merry, cranberry-red pompoms, are perfect. Plus, there’s a knitting pattern and pompom directions to make your own Sophia hat! Enjoy this generous, warm story with kids 4 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman
Leave Me Alone! written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
published in 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Another knitting story, this time with quite a different vibe!
If you think the old woman living in a shoe had lots of kids, let me introduce you to this old woman, living in a village, utterly beleaguered by her large family.
This quantity of children means she also has a deal of knitting to do so the poor dears will have sweaters to wear for the winter. The kids, however, are preventing her from getting that knitting done. Oh, we feel her pain, don’t we?!
Finally, she’s at the end of her rope. She gathers her necessaries and clops out the door with a hearty, “Leave me alone!” Going to find some peace and quiet. Alas! She encounters more and more interlopers who must be dealt with.
Thank goodness she’s got the moxie to tell them all off, but you cannot believe the ends she must go to in order to get her knitting done!
Every mother of small children ought to read this book. You might laugh…or cry…depending on the day, but you will cheer for her and her mission accomplished, that’s for certain. Bold, rich colors, a bushel-basket of personality, and heaps of humor enliven every page. Read it with kids ages 4 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: Leave Me Alone
How to Build a Snow Bear, written by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2016 by Farrar Straus Giroux
The folks who brought us such a fabulous big brother in How to Share with a Bear are back with another episode in the lives of these two nice boys.
In their last go-round, little brother was ticklishly-difficult to avoid. Today, Thomas is building an enormous snow man and needs his little brother’s help. But that little fellow has got the serious drowsies. How do you wake up a snoozing bear?
How do you coax him outdoors for snowman success and wintertime fun? It takes kindness, patience, and big-brother savvy, and Thomas has got that in spades.
I adore the sweet relationship between these two brothers. Such a welcome perspective. Stephanie Graegin’s immensely-warm illustrations match the amiable tone of the narrative wonderfully. A lovely story to share with children ages 2 and up.
Here’s the Amazon link: How to Build a Snow Bear
Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Mr. Putter, Tabby, Mrs. Teaberry, and her good dog Zeke are back in this cheery, wintertime tale.
Mr. Putter feels that winter can be a bit slow. His gardening and hammock-lounging days are mothballed until spring. Then he recalls the days of his youth and the grand time he had sledding.
Of course Mrs. Teaberry is game! And of course Zeke is ready to careen down the hills! Tabby, however, is a bit bent out of shape over these icy antics!
As always, Mr. Putter knows just how to soothe Tabby’s ruffled fur. Early reader’s lovelovelove Mr. Tabby for good reason. Hand them this one over Christmas break.
Here’s the Amazon link: Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope
Last week I recommended a new chapter book, a sequel to the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, and mentioned my Trepidation Factor when a beloved old book gets reprised.
Well, multiply that by a factor of …I don’t know, 100?… when it’s a sequel to one of the best books on anybody’s list, A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. The immediate reaction is perhaps to vow never to read such a thing. I mean, Atticus Finch turned into a racist. What might happen to Pooh Bear?
All that to say — I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this new collection of stories turned out for the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh:
The Best Bear in All the World, written by Paul Bright, Brian Sibley, Jeanne Willis, and Kate Saunders, and illustrated by Mark Burgess
published by Dutton Children’s Books in 2016
The subtitle of this book, which in itself smacks of Pooh-ology, reads, “in which we join Winnie-the-Pooh for a year of adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.” There are four chapters, one for each season, each written by a talented, British author.
There are many reasons to embrace this book, and for you die-hard Pooh-ophiles, I’ll just try to reassure you enough that you’ll give this a try.
First, these authors know Milne and Pooh Bear. Their fondness for the subject is evident in the trustworthy way they’ve maintained each personality and included elements from Milne’s original stories. Tigger still loves his Extract of Malt. Pooh writes hums. Piglet jumps with sudden fright, then tries to pawn it off as enthusiasm or some other less ignominious motive. Many allusions, from Heffalump Traps to Expotitions to the North Pole, crop up and I am glad that no tiresome explanations are given. Just — there is Owl spelling things and Roo taking his Strengthening Medicine and if you don’t know the origins, why, you’ll miss part of the joy, but if you’re steeped in Pooh stories, these little pieces of home are like unexpected smackerels of honey along the way.
Second, Milne’s style, his delightful mix of humor and tenderness, wordplay, malapropisms, the befuddlement that makes us snicker at Pooh and love him all the more — this, too, is here. One chapter has Pooh leading the way in finding the Sauce of the Nile, as apparently explorers will look for the sauce of a river right about the place it starts. Perhaps it’s some sort of applesauce? One can always hope.
Third, illustrator Mark Burgess has done a fabulous job of imitating Ernest Shepard’s style. Each character looks like himself. The lovely lines of Shepard’s ink-and-watercolor work are here, as charming as ever. Even the page layouts are familiar. The artwork is entirely in color on sparkling white, creamy pages, and a cheery new map of the Hundred Acre Wood makes up the end-papers, just as it should.
Included are brief notes from each of the contributors which give us a small window onto their thoughts and inspirations for this project.
If you are looking for Milne himself to reappear and add to his legacy, I suppose you might be disappointed, although even he might choose to wander a tad or even be unable to put himself precisely back in the headspace he was in when he penned the Pooh stories in the early 1920s. But if you have long loved Pooh Bear, I’d encourage you to pick this up and revisit the Six Pine Trees, Owl’s House, Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, and the whole company, for a fresh dose of cheer.
If you are in a third group, and have never read the original stories but only seen a Disneyfied version of Pooh — you should remedy that immediately! Read my review of Winnie-the-Pooh here and join the party!
Here are Amazon links for: