juicy gems for July…a big jumble of reads!

It’s just about the midpoint in summertime school vacations.
When hot weather and long days get a bit much,
a nice stack of fizzy new reads is just the ticket
for cooling down and filling imaginations with something new to ponder.

Today I’ve got picture books, nonfiction gems, and chapter books
that’ll suit a wide age-range of readers.
I hope there’s something just right for you and your crew.

First up — some picture books in translation,
one of my favorite category of books to investigate!


Sato the Rabbit: The Moon
written and illustrated by Yuki Ainoya, translated by Michael Blaskowsky
first published in Japan; first English language edition 2021 by Enchanted Lion Books

This title is the second in a charming, highly-imaginative trilogy coming to us from Japan courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books.

I fell in love with the first volume (reviewed here) and eagerly snapped this one up as well.  Once again we are transported into a delightful, curious world  along with Sato, the rabbit. It’s a place where twisting a flower-shaped faucet handle brings about a shower of fresh green leaves; where rain parties feature rain-music and shimmering raindrop curtains; where the moon’s reflection can be pulled from the pond, hung up to dry, and fluffed into a snug, glowing blanket.

Seven tiny tales, each one like a jewel of fanciful wonder, illustrated in gorgeous color and marshmallow soft landscapes. Marvelous for ages 3 and up.

The Tale of the Tiny Man, written by Barbro Lindgren, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall
published originally in Sweden in 1979; English edition 2022 by Gecko Press

One of Sweden’s most beloved children’s author/illustrator teams brings us this poignant story of loneliness and the healing balm of companionship.

Once there was a tiny man with a heart of gold who was very lonely. Kind as he was, people simply did not favor him with any sort of friendliness in return. Truly, his sadness is heartbreaking. He even posted a “Friend Wanted” notice but for days and days, no one responded to his plea.

Then — oh joy! — a dog comes along, and soon the two of them are close-knit friends. This astonishing happiness brightens the tiny man’s life, until a little girl comes along and that ol’ “two’s company, three’s a crowd” syndrome threatens to unravel it all. Not to worry, all end’s merrily, though sensitive souls will need to brave their way through some trying times.

Tender, emotive, endearing, this story might make you shed a wee tear. Ages 5 and up.

The Dog Walk, by Sven Nordqvist
originally published in Sweden in 2018; English edition 2021 by Floris Books

Sven Nordqvist is a favorite Swedish illustrator and here he ditches words completely to bring us an extraordinary tale set in an imaginative land that makes Alice in Wonderland look tame in comparison.

When one ordinary child takes Grandma’s dog for a walk — oh, the places they go! Hop on board the tiny old steam train and journey to fantastical places. Every page is a new feast for the eyes, with mash-ups of invented creatures and familiar ones, surreal landscapes and fairy tale scenarios. There are dozens and dozens of happy surprises everywhere you look, and it’s great fun to keep spotting the child and dog in multiple places within each scene.

Simply an enormous heap of fun, and a jolly way to while away some downtime for kids ages 4 and up!

Sometimes Cake, written by Edwina Wyatt, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie
first published in Australia in 2020; first US edition 2022 by Candlewick Press

And coming from Australia, here we have a little winkle of happiness, a story tender as a butter cookie, sweet as a slice of birthday cake, just right for Very Small listeners.

Audrey and Lion are pals. And who wouldn’t want to be besties with Lion, a fella who finds a cause for celebration every day.  There’s vanilla cake with cherries to celebrate Tuesdays and coconuts. There’s bunting and balloons to celebrate orange and yellow.

Soon, Audrey gets the hang of this party planning business and throws together a festive celebration of her own. What has she decided deserves celebrating? I expect we could all use any and every excuse for some tea and cake. This book gives us permission to do that with copious merriment. Ages 2 and up!


Home Is Where the Birds Sing, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Katie Harnett
published in 2022 by Beach Lane Books

On to some titles that hale from the U.S.

This loving, lush, heartwarming ode to home stole my heart from page one.

“Home” is, quite naturally, a theme in many classic picture books. It’s a reflection that, when done well, reverberates within us all deeply, for each of us longs for that sense of belonging, kinship, stability that is part and parcel of the ideal notion of Home.

Here, masterful writing from one of children’s lit’s greats, and curvaceous, embracing, warm-as-cocoa illustration work from another, meet to sublime effect. Brief definitions of what home means our whole life long provide sparkling ideas and soothing understandings for child listeners and adult readers. A brilliant, warm, and wonderful offering. Ages 2 to 100.

Would You Come Too?, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Diana Sudyka
published in 2022 by Beach Lane Books

This grand, gorgeous invitation to come outside into the luscious world of nature sings with joy, discovery, imagination, freedom, and beauty.

Each line tickles our fancies as these kids ramble through meadows and along streams, in sunshine and starlight, imagining what they might get up to if they were birds or frogs, springs or twig boats, welcoming us along for the adventure.

And Diana Sudyka once again stuns us with line that dances and enfolds, with colors that invigorate and replenish and calm, all the greens and blues and earthiness of Mother Nature. I want to fall into every page. Sheer loveliness with nothing lacking, for ages 2 and up!

Old Wood Boat, written and illustrated by Nikki McClure
published in 2022 by Candlewick

Nikki McClure’s stunning, handcut, paper illustrations narrate the story of an old, derelict, wooden sailboat, lovingly restored to its full glory and launched on a delightful family sailing adventure.

McClure’s muscular line and compositions dominate the pages — wood grains and the sweep of a hull, yards of sails to mend and rugged Pacific Northwest coastlines. Her brief text describes in sailor-ly lingo the work done on planks and seams, masts and galley, as well as the raising of sails and easing of sheets that steer the boat out on the water. There’s a small glossary included for those unfamiliar with these terms.

A two-page cutaway showing where everything on board is located, from ginger ale to propeller shaft to warm socks, is one of my favorite spreads. I also love the sense of craftsmanship, adventure, and thrill of the great outdoors that shines through every page. For any who love to sail, ages 4 to 100, this is a book that’ll warm your hearts. For those outside the world of sailing — it’s a gem anyway, so give it a whirl!


Moose’s Book Bus, written and illustrated by Inga Moore
published in 2021 by Candlewick Press

Years ago, Inga Moore gave us the story of a new home in the woods (reviewed here) which I completely fell in love with.  Her gorgeous woodsy settings and droll, charming animal personalities make it a story to read again and again.

Happily, we find ourselves back with that same crew in this new story. It seems that Moose has found his calling as an epic storyteller. One night, though, he just can’t seem to spin another tale, so he goes in search of a storybook to read aloud instead.

But blimey! No one in the whole neighborhood has a book for Moose to borrow! Moose finds one the next day at the library in town, and wham shazam, his living room is packed to the ceiling as absolutely everyone clamors to hear him read. That’s lovely, of course, but not really sustainable.

Discover Moose’s marvelous solutions to his neighbors’ penchant for stories in this enor-moose-ly en-deer-ing tale! Ages 3 and up.


The Big Island: A Story of Isle Royale, written by Julian May, illustrated by John Schoenherr
orig. published in 1968; reprinted in 2021 by University of Minnesota Press

This first nonfiction gem is especially for those of us from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, all of whom have a close connection with Isle Royale, that rugged, rocky home of timberwolves and moose just off the shore of Minnesota in the cold waters of Lake Superior.

First published in 1968, this account describes the ancient history of the island and the ways it began to be populated by both vegetation and wildlife. It explains how at one point, moose overpopulated the island causing starvation and weakening of their species before their predators, the wolves, arrived. And it reveals the way the presence of wolves benefited all members of this habitat.

A brief note from a long-time wolf expert is appended in this new edition, in which he explains some of the changes that have occurred on Isle Royale in the decades since this book was written, including the demise of the wolf population, the resulting problems, and the reintroduction of wolves to the island by rangers. (Isle Royale is a National Park.) Simple language and handsome illustrations bring this precious place, and the ecological lessons it has taught us, to life. Ages 5 and up.


Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky
written by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
published in 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf

Stunning illustration work grabs our attention in this fascinating book exploring the color blue.

Where did blue pigment originate? How long have humans been using this color? Why was blue considered a holy color and in what ways did that influence what it was used for?

When did indigo emerge and how did that impact the practice of enslavement? How has the color blue and the word “blue” found a myriad ways into our vocabulary and music?

A lot of ground is covered lightly yet intriguingly in this sweeping account of something so familiar we hardly think twice about it. An Author’s Note provides even more background for slightly older readers. Gorgeous, unusual, thought-provoking — it’s hard to believe this won’t win some awards this year. For ages 6 and up.

Africa, Amazing Africa: Country by Country, written by Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag
published in 2019 in the UK; first US edition 2021 by Candlewick Press
75 pages

I love Atinuke’s many stories set in West Africa and was elated to see her compile this colorful, energetic guide to the whole continent.

Africa is too often thought of by Westerners as one place. People speak of Brazil, India, and Africa…as though they are equivalents, even though Africa is a massive, highly-diverse continent. Now you can do some armchair traveling from region to region, visiting each country in this beautiful guidebook, bursting with punchy color and lively design.

As there are 55 countries covered in 75 pages, you can imagine that each one gets the chance for only a very brief hello, but Atinuke does a fabulous job of relaying a wide variety of interesting tidbits, touching on the gamut of scenarios from modern cities to traditional religions, sports and crafts, cultures and wildlife, as she bops from one location to the next. Zingy-bright maps and places to find out more are included. Ages 6 and up.


Sydney and Taylor Take a Flying Leap
77 pages
Sydney and Taylor and the Great Friend Expedition
75 pages
written by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Deborah Hocking
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2021 and 2022

For those of you who caught the first in this charming series, you’ll be happy to know there are two more volumes available.

In the second volume, Taylor (the hedgehog) decides he wants to learn to fly like a bird in order to see the whole wide world. Sydney is not a fan of this Big Idea, but despite all obstacles and plenty of setbacks, Taylor persists. How does Taylor manage to get airborne? How does Sydney come to his aid? And what happens when danger appears in the form of a hungry hawk?! Thrills and spills galore.

The third, and I believe final volume, follows these two as they navigate another one of Taylor’s Big Ideas — making friends.  This is much easier said than done, but before the ups and downs of this surprisingly-dangerous adventure wind to a close, these two have discovered how many friends they do have, how loyal one particular friend is, and how lucky they are to have one another.  Bursting with color and personality, these are awesome for newly confident readers ages 6 and up.

Anne’s Tragical Tea Party
adapted by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
published in 2022 by Tundra Books
65 pages

This is the third of these short, colorful adaptations of Anne of Green Gables, each one a sweet introduction to her beloved world on Prince Edward Island.

This time Anne hosts the infamous tea party at which Diana Barry, her bosom friend, accidentally gets tipsy on Marilla’s currant wine resulting in Mrs. Barry forbidding Diana to spend any more time with Anne, a most tragical circumstance.

But when Diana’s little sister Minnie May becomes dreadfully sick while their parents are away, Anne, who knows a thing or two about taking care of small children, saves her life, bringing Mrs. Barry back into the great fold of those who cherish this irrepressible little red-haired girl with a nose for trouble.

Adapter Kallie George evades any mention of drunkenness in her telling, choosing to merely describe Diana as ill and foregoes any scary details about Minnie May’s condition as well. That means this rendition is easily appropriate for even very young listeners, as well as confident new readers.

Sir Ladybug, written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
published in 2022 by Balzer + Bray
75 pages

Introducing Ladybug and his supremely-supportive sidekick Pell, a pill bug, who has dubbed him Sir Ladybug, Champion of Truth and Justice, among other effusive accolades.

These two plus their buddy Sterling the Snail are on a quest to save a caterpillar from becoming lunch for a hungry chickadee.  How can they A) save the caterpillar’s life and B) offer the chickadee something even better to eat? The answer, of course, is cake!
Mindblowingly scrumptious cake.

Told entirely in comic panels and speech bubbles, this energetic story is a zesty, warmhearted option for readers intimidated by pages full of text.
It’s the first in a new series. Ages 6 and up.


Gooseberry Park, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
published in 1995 by Harcourt Books
133 pages

Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan
published in 2015 by Beach Lane Books
109 pages

Almost 30 years ago, Cynthia Rylant, one of America’s iconic children’s authors, wrote Gooseberry Park. It’s a classic animal story with the feel of The Trumpet of the Swan (E.B. White) or Rabbit Hill (Robert Lawson). The star of the book is Kona, a chocolate Lab with a heart of gold, who is good buddies with a squirrel named Stumpy in the neighborhood park. When Stumpy gives birth to three darling kits, Kona is over the moon with happiness. But a terrible ice storm wreaks havoc on the trees in Gooseberry Park, cracking, breaking, and splintering them, including Stumpy’s home-nest tree. It’s up to Kona to rescue the homeless squirrel family, a task made more difficult by Stumpy’s leaving the kits with her pal Murray, a comedic bat, while she searches for Kona. It’s a tale of endearing camaraderie and doggy heroics. Rylant’s sophisticated language and a few dated cultural references (Walkmans, VCRs) may need explaining, but all told it’s a superb read-aloud for ages 6 and up. You’ll recognize the illustrator from the Mr. Putter and Tabby series.

Rylant followed that up twenty years later with a sequel, Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan. This time, Gooseberry Park and its animal residents face a severe drought. How can a good dog, a mama squirrel, a ridiculous bat, and an old hermit crab, solve a dire matter like this? Discover their brilliant solution featuring helpful allies including a crow, a raccoon, and 200 owls, plus clever equipment including gobs of chewing gum and drinking straws.

I decided to re-read these this summer and post them here because Rylant has published a third entry in the series, A Kitten in Gooseberry Park this year. (Beach Lane Books; 2022; 112 pages). I am waiting for this to come in at my library, but the plot is said to revolve around the opposite weather crisis — too much rain — in which a bobcat kitten is swept into the Gooseberry neighborhood and once again Kona and his friends are called upon for rescuing and reuniting duty.  It’s a great little series for reading aloud and you’ll be so glad to have met all these new animal acquaintances.

When Winter Robeson Came, by Brenda Woods
published in 2022 by Nancy Paulsen Books
160 pages

This slim, novel-in-verse is set in L.A., in August 1965.

When Eden Cole’s cousin, Winter, comes from Mississippi for a two-week visit, life takes one unexpected twist after another. First, because although Winter has supposedly come merely to sightsee and spend time with his relatives, in reality he’s on a mission to find his father who abruptly disappeared 10 years earlier. Using his last known address, Eden and Winter begin trying to solve the mystery of what happened to him.

And second, because the six-day-long Watts riots take place during Winter’s visit, unleashing destruction and anguish, precipitating changes to Eden’s beloved neighborhood. Both of these circumstances usher new acquaintances and understandings into Eden’s and Winter’s lives. The weeks end up being a microcosm of life itself, a complex mixture of joy and grief, beauty and mess.

I enjoyed this book and appreciated the light shone on the Watts protests and riots, an unusual topic in kid’s novels but certainly one that many of today’s middle-graders can relate to. Woods has also woven in many delightful aspects of ’60s Black culture which was nice to see. I have a couple of quibbles with it however, the first being the cover image which reads quite young and carefree while the protagonists in this book are 13 and 14 years old and are managing some heavy events including police brutality and housing discrimination. A second disappointment is the lack of an author’s note better explaining the Watts crisis and offering further resources.  Nevertheless, it’s a quick read and a solid choice for ages 11 and up.

The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan
published in 2022 by HarperCollins Childrens
221 pages

In 1783, at the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, a thrilling spectacle drew a crowd including the King and Queen of France and American diplomat Benjamin Franklin. It was the launch of the first hot air balloon to transport living pilots — a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.

Riffing off of this historical event and the intriguing personages in Paris at that time occupying themselves with the mysteries of science, pseudo-science, and technology, Matt Phelan has crafted an unusual novel. It’s peopled with spies and rogues, inventors and fraudsters, royalty and servants, and anchored by that trio of brilliant pilots who are far more intelligent, conversant, and organized than most anyone would imagine. In fact, they are secretly at work to keep the world safe and at peace. But can they outsmart one of the cleverest rascals of all — the dashing Count Cagliostro?

Phelan happily intersperses his illustrated, prose chapters with a few sections in which the story is told via his masterful cartoon panels. His sophisticated writing, smattering of French, and elevated vocabulary makes this a little bit hard to peg. I’d suggest confident readers ages 10 and up. It could be read to experienced listeners a bit younger than that.

Warren the 13th and The Whispering Woods, text by Tania Del Rio, illustrations by Will Staehle
published in 2017 by Quirk Books
236 heavily-illustrated pages

I thoroughly enjoyed the first of the Warren the 13th books (reviewed here) and happily dove into this second episode which is crammed just as full of careening adventure as the original novel.  Quicksand! Secret Codes! Nasty witches! Angry trees! Sap-loving Sasquatches! A Slimy Snake-Oil Con-man! Plus dear Warren and his loyal crew of friends! All coming your way.

Warren runs one of the most curious hotels in the land, a “walking hotel” which ferries its guests around the countryside while they enjoy Warren’s impeccable hospitality. An unfortunate accident, though, causes a cascade of serious malfunctions at the hotel and when Warren heads out to procure the necessary De-Stickifier to remedy the problem, he falls into the hands of Sinister Forces. Meanwhile, the malevolent Queen Calvina is after the hotel for her own ghastly reasons. With one disaster after another befalling Warren and his good-hearted staff, can they manage to save the hotel?

Fabulous pacing, a sparkling cast, zesty writing, a delicious Gothic vibe, and some of the most rad, captivating illustration work you’ll find all make these novels stand out from the crowd. They make a great read-aloud for a fairly wide age range, I’d say ages 7 and up,  and fun independent choices for capable readers. You’ve got to read them in order, so catch the first one before proceeding to this volume. A third volume, Warren the 13th and the Thirteen-Year Curse was published in 2020 and is making its way slowly to my library where I’ll be sure to grab it!


I surely hope you find something new and wonderful to read during these hot summer days.

The image at the top of the post is by Katie Harnett, a detail from Home Is Where the Birds Sing.

I’ll be back with more goodies another day.
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