Today’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge.
I’ve felt the need lately to give myself a little break from
my regular routine of blogging
which for about 12 years now has required
a fantastic number of hours to research, read, select, review, and publish,
all completely without any financial benefit to me.
I’m feeling a bit burned out and in need of time for other pursuits
and space to evaluate the future of this one.
My plan for the time being is
to write occasional posts highlighting my favorite reads in all sorts of categories,
or muse about something book-ish,
whatever strikes my fancy.
So this is quite a higgledy-piggledy post
with some longer reviews
and some very short entries
and includes one title that isn’t children’s literature at all.
Just what has stood out in my recent reading.
At any rate, I hope you discover some titles that are just right for you and the readers in your life.
First, a few…
I am the Subway, written and illustrated by Kim Hyo-eun, translated by Deborah Smith
first published in Korea in 2016; English edition published by Scribble in 2021
This award-winning picture book is an astonishing piece of art and I recommend it not only to children, but to you grown-ups who appreciate the artistry in picture-book making.
I have an enormous soft-spot for artwork that elevates the beauty and glory
in the ordinary which surrounds us,
and this book does just that, superlatively well.
First, Hyo-eun’s gorgeous, urban-sketchbook style artwork surges with life and authentic humanity. Every figure rings true, and the collection of people coming and going from one particular subway car are a microcosm of the real sorts of persons who occupy our world. Be sure to slow down and track the individuals involved as they appear, settle in, and move along on this journey.
Then, there’s the premise of the book. The subway itself is telling the story of the folks who are carried hither and yon on a typical day. As each one boards the train, we hear them tell a small snippet of their own story, and hear the tender, almost motherliness of the subway as it carries its precious cargo. Such ordinary folks, yet each one with infinitely important people in their lives, with unsuspected interests and capabilities, needs and trials. The loving, gracious depiction of the simultaneously small and enormous lives encompassed by these people — this is what bestows such a warm, healing ambience to this brief account.
Don’t miss the short notes from both author and illustrator at the end of the book which give us glimpses into their own personhood and motivations. This goes on my all-time favorite picture books list.
Ages 5 and up.
Ship in a Bottle, written and illustrated by Andrew Prahin
published in 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Mouse loves her ship-in-a-bottle home but she’s had quite enough of the high risks and toothy encounters that come from sharing a house with a cat, so she fills the bottle with a goodly store of gingersnaps and launches her craft into the river, setting off for a new and more peaceful life.
However, along the way she runs into a whole new set of dangers! Greedy seagulls. Curious bunnies. Wild and wooly storms!
It takes all Mouse’s valor and cleverness to survive each brush with disaster but finally she hauls her craft ashore. Mercifully, Mouse has arrived in a welcoming locale where many sweet friends await her.
By turns exciting, perilous, and warmhearted, this is a story I would expect to read over and over to children. Lovely, captivating illustration work carries us along peaceful tracts and through hurly-burly tempests before landing us in a rosy, sunlit piece of paradise. Ages 3 and up.
Fairy Tale Adventure, written by Lily Murray, illustrated by Wesley Robins
published in 2021 by Wide Eyed Editions
What are the ingredients in a fairy tale? Heroes in fanciful costumes, adventurous journeys with magical compatriots, fantastical feasts and extravagant villains. All of these sweet and spicy ingredients are lined up on the shelves in this storybook, waiting for you to mix up your own delicious concoction.
Each colorful page presents us with a juicy array of choices: What will you choose as your reward? A never-ending pot of chocolate? The keys to your own castle? How will you choose to travel? By pumpkin carriage? On a flying carpet? Who is coming along on your journey and where is it you want to go?
My own kids would have whiled away many a happy hour poring over and debating all these delectable choices and inventing the stories that accompany them. Whether it’s a rainy day distraction, a way to pass the time on a long trip, or the launching pad for some storywriting of their own, this will be a favorite for creative, imaginative kids ages 4 and up.
Another volume, Space Adventure, is also available.
Chirri & Chirra: The Rainy Day, written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by David Boyd
published in 2021 by Enchanted Lion Books
Every Chirri & Chirra adventure is glittering with imagination, delicious as a pink-frosted, sprinkle-laden sugar cookie, satisfying as a soft pillow at the end of a weary day. Do check them all out. This latest is as charming as ever. I believe it’s the seventh one!
Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl
published in 2021 by Tundra Books
I am smitten with this book!
Phoebe Wahl’s plucky little forest witch is an absolute delight in this chunky-sized picture book with four “chapters.” Rich, luscious illustrations of her woodsy home dominate the pages, while friendly, kind-hearted episodes taking place through the four seasons captivate our imaginations.
From the darling end pages to the snug conclusion, it’s a total treat. Ages 3 and older will eat this up!
Julia’s House Goes Home, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
published in 2021 by FirstSecond
This is the third delightful installment about Julia and her welcoming house for unwanted creatures. When last we heard from them (Julia’s House Moves On), Julia’s house had become quite restless and her plans for all those under her care were unraveling a bit.
Now, in one giant roof-over-cellar tumble, Julia and her companions are scattered willy nilly through the countryside. As Julia wends her way, searching for the house, she gathers up not only these original friends, but a whole host of new folk, accumulating a seemingly impossibly-large community. How can one little ol’ house serve them all? Worried though she is, Julia forges on, hoping to find a way.
In the end, the community bands together to turn desolation into a marvelous neighborhood, a beautiful homeland for everyone. The warm spirit of welcome, neighborliness, and mutual aid beams from this deeply-satisfying story. Plus I learned what folletti are! Do you know? So much love for this one. Ages 3 and up.
Amos McGee Misses the Bus, written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
published in 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
Dear Amos McGee, that gentle zookeeper, is back again and what a welcome return that is.
It’s been about 12 years since we were introduced to Amos! Isn’t that crazy?!
This time around, Amos lies awake all night long planning a jolly outing for his animal friends. That makes him so groggy come morning that he up and misses the bus to work. Oh no!
In his frazzled state, Amos forgets and misplaces important items as he walks to the zoo, and then promptly falls asleep on the job. His dear animal friends, accustomed as they are to such tender care from Amos, take a turn at providing prodigious care for him. The happy result is that Amos gets a much-needed nap, his chores are all done, and there’s still time for the whole crew to catch the bus and squeeze in that cheery surprise picnic Amos has planned.
I love this quiet, warmhearted story and of course, Erin Stead’s gorgeous, whisper-soft, artwork exudes enormous affection at every turn. It’s like a taking a deep breath of all that’s good in the world, for ages 3 and up.
Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North Atlantic, written and illustrated by Flora Delargy
published in 2021 by Wide Eyed Editions
I’ve got just one non-fiction picture book to pass along but it’s a stirring account for history buffs and fans of survival stories, ages 8 through adult.
It’s the account of the ship Carpathia, which just happened to be en route from New York to the Mediterranean when a wireless message was received — an SOS, or actually a CQD as they were then known, for the sinking Titanic. What followed was an all-out, heroic race through the night, dodging deadly icebergs, tirelessly making every preparation for the rescue of as many Titanic passengers as possible.
In the end, the Carpathia was responsible for rescuing 706 people, bearing them back to shore in New York’s harbor.
Delargy succinctly narrates these historic events, highlighting key personalities and fascinating details, while her striking illustration work spans the page spreads bringing the whole episode vividly to life. Included are a glossary and some titles for further reading. Great stuff!
MIDDLE GRADE FICTION
Cold-blooded Myrtle, by Elizabeth C. Bunce
published in 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
This is the third of the Myrtle Hardcastle mysteries and like the others, once I cracked it open I simply could not put it down.
This one is set at Christmastime. Myrtle, that Irrepressible 12-year-old, and her sharp-witted governess, Miss Judson, are once again formidable sleuths as they seek to solve both the long-ago disappearance of a young woman and the all-too-current murderous goings-on in their Victorian-era, English town.
Witty, clever, fantastic fun, written with panache, for ages 12 and up. Readers will definitely want to begin with the series’ opener (Premeditated Myrtle) and read the books in order. Adults looking for a delightful mystery series should consider this as well. The fourth adventure is due out in Fall 2022.
The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish, by Karina Yan Glaser
published in 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I’ve enjoyed the Vanderbeekers series and gladly picked up this latest installment.
August 4th is a day crammed with giddy anticipation. Oliver has been awaiting his special, three-day camping trip with Papa for years and they’re leaving today! When they return, it’ll be time for Papa’s huge, surprise, 40th birthday party which has kept all the Vanderbeekers busy planning for quite some time.
So it’s a huge blow when Papa is suddenly called away to help a dear friend, and another sucker punch when their curmudgeonly grandparents show up unannounced on their doorstep. All in one morning good prospects have turned quite sour.
Leave it to the Vanderbeekers, though, to pull together with stout hearts, lovingkindness, and creativity as they ride the waves of disappointment and hypercritical house guests while plotting a whiz-bang of a birthday present for their dear dad. It’s another sunny, funny, endearing episode in the life of this chaotic, multiracial family. The whole grand series suits ages 9 and up.
Lena, the Sea, and Me, by Maria Parr, translated from the Norwegian by Guy Puzey, illustrated by Lara Paulussen
published in Norway in 2017; first US edition 2021 by Candlewick
Many of you adult readers adored and passed along to others the endearing story of Lena and Trille in Adventures with Waffles. This is the sequel and though it’s been 6 or 7 years since that first book came to us, it took me just about 2 short pages to be completely swept back into their amiable shenanigans.
These two are as hare-brained and reckless as ever, leaping from great heights into the sea, sinking rafts, nearly drowning at every turn. Even now, at age 12, their brisk, flat-out-honest, compatriots-forever friendship is as fresh as the sea breeze. But of course, life has its murky bits. Hated music lessons, the trials of being a competitive soccer-playing girl, worries over Grandpa, mystification about menopause, and unfulfilled longings are here to test the hearts and fortitude of these two over the course of one year in their Norwegian village.
Additionally, there’s a new girl in the neighborhood who’s got Trille a bit addled, and Lena, who found herself a new dad in the first novel, is now pining after a small sibling. With as much moxie as Lena and Trille have, you just know they’ll sort things out in the end. All the fierceness and passion of growing up, all the solid and essential love of family and friends, are squeezed into this wonderful story. Just sheerly heartwarming for ages 9 to adult.
Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown, by Steve Sheinkin
published in 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
303 pages + back matter
Steve Sheinkin’s nonfiction is always engrossing. This title is another compulsive read, unreeled with such fabulous, cinematic pacing and layers of tension that I literally could not put it down.
It’s the account of the Cuban Missile Crisis including the fascinating, pivotal back stories of key figures and events that led up to that critical, supercharged moment when the world held its breath and waited for two parties to blow one another to smithereens. I have read about this moment in history before, but having the pieces laid in place in such a lucid fashion, learning incredible behind-the-scenes details I had not previously heard, being immersed in the drama of it courtesy of Sheinkin’s tremendous narrative skill — made this a five-star read for me.
I appreciate greatly that even while relaying the spectacle of unimaginable violence and destruction inherent in atomic and hydrogen bombs, Sheinkin does not glamorize weaponry in the least, but consistently presents the profound human losses related to their use and the gripping fear felt by those who took the consequences of this technology seriously. Thank God for those who were repelled by the prospects of nuclear war, who resisted the bloodthirstiness of those who were gripped by the urge to smite the enemy, no matter the consequences.
I’d recommend this for ages 13-14 through adult. And by the way, a great follow-up read would be Countdown, by Deborah Wiles, a fantastic novel I’ve read alongside a number of tween readers over the years, which witnesses these events through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl living in Washington, D.C. during the Missile Crisis.
The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
published in 2021 by Candlewick Press
I’ve been looking forward eagerly to this memoir by an author/illustrator I’ve come to admire (see Breaking Stalin’s Nose; The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge) and it was every bit as masterful as I expected, and then some.
Yelchin was born in 1956 in what was then called Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and — somehow –emigrated to the U.S. in 1983. I do not know the story of how that departure was allowed. His reminiscences of childhood in the Soviet Union read with extraordinary immediacy. His narrative sparkles with colorful detail, radiates childlike naiveté and wry humor, yet looks unflinchingly at the profoundly grievous impact of the oppressive regime and its anti-Semitism on his Russian-Jewish family.
Yelchin’s illustrations are characteristically spirited and cram full of quirky personality. The way in which they intermingle with the text, enlivening the format of the pages, contributes a marvelous sense of curious fascination to the whole account.
It’s a deeply informative and poignant read, highly recommended for ages 12 thru adult.
Dovey Undaunted: A Black Woman Breaks Barriers in the Law, the Military, and the Ministry, by Tonya Bolden
published in 2021 by Norton Young Readers
174 pages + back matter
Dovey Johnson Roundtree was a courageous, justice-minded, barrier-breaking woman. She overcame daunting obstacles in order to become a lawyer in the late 1940s — a Black, female lawyer at that time! — who especially devoted herself to representing the underserved. Sort of a Bryan Stevenson forerunner.
Simultaneously, Dovey was among the first and few Black women in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp during WWII, and became one of the first ordained female clergy in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. For Roundtree, the peace and justice she strove for in these varied ventures were all of a piece.
I loved encountering this astonishing person in these pages and now have placed her autobiography, Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights, on my to-read list. Recommended for ages 12 to adult.
Naught for Your Comfort, by Trevor Huddleston
published in 1956 by Doubleday
When Archbishop Desmond Tutu died at the end of 2021, I read some articles about him and came across the name of Trevor Huddleston. I realize now that it’s a rather shocking admission of my own ignorance that I had never previously heard of him but there it is. Perhaps I came across his name while reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiograpy (Long Walk to Freedom) but it did not grab my attention? At any rate, Huddleston was an Anglican bishop who lived for 13 years in the Sophiatown district of Johannesburg where he vigorously fought the apartheid system. In fact, many argue that he did the most to dismantle the apartheid system of anyone in the world. Tutu, Mandela, and scores of other extraordinary and everyday Black South Africans said of Huddleston that he had changed their lives by treating every one of them as one of infinite value during a time of such gross devaluation. He also changed the opinion and awareness of the Western world towards apartheid in part by publishing, in 1956, this powerful book.
What I found surprising and grievous about Huddleston’s incisive exposure here of the terrible injustices of the apartheid system and the ways it degraded and ruined Black South Africans’ lives, was how current and relevant his arguments are in the U.S. My jaw dropped over and over as I recognized precisely what he was saying in current discussions, politics, and events. His withering unveiling of willful ignorance, apathy, and silence on the part of white South Africans — particularly those claiming to be Christians — in the face of injustice, and his assessment that this was the most evil ingredient in the entire system, came 10 years before MLK’s similar argument in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. 70 years later, we remain in the same position. A willful obliviousness towards the injustices our Black brothers and sisters face impedes the major reforms needed in our society. Huddleston’s examples of the ways in which the apartheid system first impoverished, dehumanized, traumatized, and stifled Black South Africans and then criminalized them for the consequences of those inequities, is echoed in what reformers today are arguing.
If you are interested in understanding better the calls for antiracism work and education in the U.S., for reform to policing and to the criminal justice system, for voting rights protections, etc., reading Huddleston’s book may, oddly enough, help you see these concerns more clearly, with less of the baggage that comes from critiquing what is perhaps too close and familiar to see objectively. Seeing the vehement stance of white supremacy and its ramifications in apartheid South Africa throws a bright light on more disguised systems in our own society. Motivated teens ages about 16 and up can tackle this, though the intended audience is adults.
When I’ve collected another jumble of goodness,
I’ll be back!
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