I’m posting these Halloween titles a week early so you’ve got time to nab some from your library.
Monster Trouble, written by Lane Fredrickson, illustrated by Michael Robertson
published in 2016 by Sterling Children’s Books
Winifred Schnitzel is no pushover.
Toothy werewolves? She loves ’em.
Pirates? Sharks? Scary movies? She eats ’em for breakfast.
Yet bedtime at Winifred’s place is a bother. And not because she’s spooked by the gallons of monsters who creep and pad and snurgle their way into her room every night. All those googly eyes, fangy grimaces, scurrilous horns, and browbeetling eyebrows? Pshaw.
It’s just that these guys interrupt her sleep with their disorderly, rowdy ways. What’s a girl to do?
Winifred is one smart cookie, and she makes the most surprising discovery! What’s the secret to ridding your room of monsters? Read this monstrously-delightful book to find out. Robertson’s gleeful, Kool-aid-colored galoots and plucky heroine bristle with jolliness. Ages 3 and up.
Grimelda, the Very Messy Witch, written by Diana Murray, illustrated by Heather Ross
published in 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins
Grimelda is a different sort altogether from Winifred. She’s more of your happy-go-lucky, blithe, haphazard type, whose house is rife with green goo spilling onto jumbled papers and the odd sock languidly lounging in the cauldron.
This does not bother Grimelda a tiddly bit. Except. Tonight she’s hankering for some pickle pie and in her topsy-turvy household, she just can’t put her hands on that pickle root. Where in the name of stinkweed can it be?
Grimelda searches high and low until finally she’s got no choice. Clean the house, it is. From top to bottom, Grimelda sweeps and tidies finding an extraordinary lot of things she had no idea were missing, including Wizzlewarts the cat.
Will Grimelda find the missing pickle root? Can she live happily in a spruced-up cottage? Find out in this high-spirited, rhythmic account, so full of cleverness and eye of newt. Ross’s vivacious illustrations careen with mayhem and mess. A blast for ages 3 and up.
Whoops!, written by Suzi Moore, illustrated by Russell Ayto
published in 2015 in the UK; first U.S. edition 2016 by Templar
A cat who can’t meow? A dog who can’t woof? A mouse who can’t squeak?
If you’ve got that kind of trouble, you’d best make your way to “the old lady in the tumbledown house,” advises the owl. “She’ll have a spell to make you all well.”
And…she does mean well. It’s just that she’s not exactly at the top of her game, shall we say, and before you can say shizzle-shazzle, crazy things begin to happen. Unfazed, our increasingly-manic old woman keeps trying to straighten out the chaos of her misguided spells.
Wow. Russell Ayto’s vision of this accident-prone auntie is a hoot. Walking through a staid, gray forest, entering her decrepit, spindly house, we meet a smidgeon of a person, cool as a cucumber in her Iris Apfel glasses and snarly blue hair. But just put a spell book in her teensy hands and kapow! The world turns neon!
It’s a hilarious tale, with understated text and figures alongside electrifying color and special effects! Splendid for ages 3 and up!
Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts, written by Stephanie Shaw, illustrated by Kevin M. Barry
published in 2016 by Sleeping Bear Press
So, two characters by the name of Schnitzel in one post. What are the odds?
This Schnitzel is a tweedly boy. He’s apprenticed to a wizard but alas! Schnitzel is not the most hard-working of employees. In fact, he’s a lazy lout.
And so, when he’s supposed to be cleaning the house with a refractory vacuum cleaner — an arduous task as we well know — Schnitzel is all too willing to let a midnight-arriving stranger “draped in an opera cloak” with pointy ears, tiny fangs, uncanny eyebrows, and a “ghostly pale” face! — let this stranger, I say, into the house to do the work for him with his newfangled, unearthly cleaning machine.
If you think this sounds like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with a twist — you’re right. Written in snappy rhyme, with fiendishly-clever illustrations capturing the brooding castle, vile vampire, and ghastly nightmare, this is an utter delight. Stephanie Shaw has also provided the history of this old tale and some inspired story-prompts for young writers. Enjoy this with ages 5 and up.
The Wuggly Ump, written and illustrated by Edward Gorey
originally published in 1963; this edition 2007 by Pomegranate
What’s Halloween without a little Edward Gorey?
This cautionary tale of his is a masterpiece. So lighthearted,so carefree, so ominous, so eyebrow-raisingly-tense, all at once.
Gorey gives us contrasting glimpses of three merry children singing tirraloo, tirralay, who can’t be bothered with thoughts of the Wuggly Ump as he lives so far away — and the leering, snakey-tailed, umbrella-gobbling W.U. himself.
As the poem continues, we readers are increasingly aware that the children’s sanguine attitude is quite inappropriate. The Ump has left its den! He’s hurtling over hills, leaping over waters, clambering into their house! Aaaand GULP. He swallows them all up.
In Gorey’s absurd world, the rather vacuous children continue to sing inside the Wuggly Ump, so…not quite as grim as it might otherwise be! Hilariously macabre, for slightly older kids. Perhaps ages 6 and up.
Find more Halloween fare in my Subject Index under Holidays and enjoy all the dress-up and sweets-collecting!
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.
What 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, 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 connections 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 email@example.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.
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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, written by Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Peter Bailey
published in 2014 by Macmillan Children’s Books
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 Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell
published in 2011 in Great Britain; 2014 in the U.S. by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
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.
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.
Posted in fiction | Tagged Africa, book reviews, chapter books, child labor, children's literature, cocoa plantations, Cote d'Ivoire, culture shock, Ethiopia, middle grade fiction, TCKs, YA fiction, Zimbabwe | Leave a Comment »