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Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

I think we could all use a smile, and today’s books are overflowing with good cheer, simple pleasures, yummy goodies, and even a wish or three.

So break out the jam tarts and peppermint tea, cuddle up together, and journey towards joy.

the-littlest-familys-big-day-cover-imageThe Littlest Family’s Big Day, written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
published in 2016 by Random House

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Pure, tender charm spills from this book like blueberries from my grandmother’s pie!

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This little family of bears reminds me littlefurfamilyquite a lot of Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams’ Little Fur Family. Does anyone remember that book?

We’re paying a visit to these bears on quite an eventful day.  They’re settling into a new home. Meeting their creaturely neighbors.  Then exploring the outdoors, feasting upon strawberries, and returning to a snug home after a wee bit of an adventure.

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Like a spoonful of sugar for your day, this is a sweet story to share again and again with ages 2 and up. Love it!

paul-and-antoinette-cover-imagePaul and Antoinette, written and illustrated by Kerascoët, translated from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
published in 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books

Paul and his sister Antoinette are as different as plum cake and salsa.

Antoinette goes at life with reckless abandon, piling jam and chocolate on her toast like nobody’s business, exulting in worms, galloping through mud puddles.

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Paul, on the other hand, is a deliberate, sensitive, quieter soul who feasts on new knowledge sponged up slowly, enjoys tidiness, tinkering, and thinking.

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Life with one another, then, has its challenges, but at the end of the day, with patience and love, they manage. Antoinette’s jolly Everything Tart definitely helps matters along! Whipped cream mountains of good cheer, here, for ages 3 and up.

hedgehugs-and-the-hattiepillar-cover-imageHedgehugs and the Hattiepillar, written by Steve Wilson, illustrated by Lucy Tapper
published in 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.

Horace and Hattie Hedgehug are back, these two dear friends. This time they’re out and about exploring the beauty of the great outdoors when they spy something oh-so-interesting. Small. Shiny. Smooth.

This interesting little pea turns out to be an egg, and out crawls a “wriggly, stripy thing” that proceeds to eat. A lot! And then spin itself a “soft, silky bed.” And then make a grand entrance as something terribly exciting, “something beautiful, colorful, and wonderful.”

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Horace and Hattie decide that eating a great lot, then curling up to sleep in a lovely, soft, silky bed sounds like a terrific idea. They hope they’ll emerge from this just as colorful and wonderful!

I’ll let you see what comes of their grand experiment. I think you’ll agree that it sounds like a hypothesis any number of us would be pleased to test out! Darling, cheerful fun for ages 2 and up.

pug-mans-3-wishes-cover-imagePug Man’s 3 Wishes, written and illustrated by Sebastian Meschenmoser, translated from the German by David Henry Wilson
first published in Germany in 2008; English version published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books

For dry, droll humor, you just can’t beat Sebastian Meschenmoser. This book will tickle the funny bones of young children and adults alike.

Pug Man is a curmudgeonly fellow at best, but this morning everything is going wrong. Groggy and unmotivated after oversleeping, Pug Man goes through the motions of getting ready for the day only to find no milk in the fridge, no coffee in the cup, and a soggy, dripping newspaper.

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Seriously bad day.

Much to Pug Man’s consternation a bippety-boppety-boo chipper little fairy appears at that moment, determined to Cheer Him Up!!! With saccharine glee she offers him three marvelous wishes!

Pug Man makes use of those wishes. You’ll have to see just what he wishes for! A funny tale for ages 3 and up, and especially well-suited to any anti-morning persons!

motor-miles-cover-imageMotor Miles, written and illustrated by John Burningham
published in 2016 by Candlewick

Coming from one of the most beloved children’s lit author/illustrators, this story brought me cheer at the first glimpse of the cover.

Burningham’s carefree line, scribbly hair, smart auto, and sunny fields bring back memories of reading the Mr. Gumpy books umpteen times with my children, and loving them just as much every time.

This book is not about Mr. Gumpy, despite those visual similarities. It’s about a dog named Miles. Miles “was a very difficult dog.” Have you experienced one of those??

Here is John Burningham with the real, difficult, Miles!

Here is John Burningham with the real, difficult, Miles!

Doesn’t bother to come when called. Balks on the leash. Barks unnecessarily. Turns up his nose at his food. His owners, Alice Trudge and her son Norman, are fond of dear Miles, but a bit at their wits end until Mr. Huddy from next door offers to build Miles his own little car.

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Miles loveloveloves his little roadster. In a jiffy, his attitude clears up, his appetite returns, and he and Norman carry off a bundle of jolly adventures to boot!

This is a lark of a story, guaranteed to spark imaginations and put a big smile on the face of readers ages 2 and up.

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wolf-in-the-snow-cover-imageWolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell
published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends

My top pick for Valentine’s Day might seem unusual at first glance, but believe me — this is a book about love! Love within a family — anchoring, steadfast — and sacrificial love for the stranger. It touched my heart deeply.

Cordell’s wordless story features a little girl living in a northerly home where wolves dwell and blizzards swirl. On her way home from school one day, snow begins falling so fast and furious that she becomes utterly enveloped in it. Lost.

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She’s not the only one. One frowsy wolf pup gets separated from its pack. As the little girl plods her way along, she comes across it, shivering, scared, whimpering. From far across the snow-covered hills she hears the mournful howling of the pack.

What to do?

The safe thing, of course, is to apologize to the pup and keep on her homeward journey! She’s cold and forlorn herself. Fatigued from pushing through that deep snow. Night falls early. Wolves are toothy! It’s certainly much more sensible to worry about her own self rather than that scruffy pup.

But scooping him up in her arms, she sets off across the snowy wasteland. It’s quite a journey and Cordell’s masterful pacing and artwork sweep us right into it. Not only do we experience the physical exertion, but also a powerful range of emotions.

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 I was stunned by all that is stuffed into this small tale — beauty, heroism, courage, kindness, gorgeous wolves, the warmth of home, and above all one little girl’s willingness to put another’s needs ahead of her own. Brilliant, for ages 3 and up.

thelinesonnanasface-cover-imageThe Lines on Nana’s Face, written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

This is truly one of the dearest books I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s Nana’s birthday and her granddaughter is excited to celebrate with her. She knows how much Nana loves to have her family all together. Yet this little girl has a niggling concern.

Sometimes it’s hard to read Nana’s face and know if she’s entirely, completely happy because of all the lines wrinkling across it.

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Nana assures her that those lines don’t bother her a bit, because “it is in these lines that I keep all my memories!” Doubtful, her granddaughter quizzes her on each wrinkle. Which memory is tucked in that one, Nana? And in this one?

Nana easily relates the happy — and one sad — memories creased into her beautiful face. That includes one of the most precious memories of all.

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Ciraolo’s palette of luscious pinks, sunshine yellow, warm biscuit browns, and glowing spring greens washes through this book like a glad smile. The rounded baby shapes of granddaughter and dignified angles of grandmother fit together, hand-in-glove, while life swirls and curls happily around them. A treasure of grandmotherly love to share with ages 2 and up.

i-love-you-too-cover-imageLove You, Too, written by Alastair Heim, illustrated by Alisa Coburn
published in 2016 by little bee books

Mama pig and her little porker move through a merry day together in this charmer. From morning wake-up and pancake breakfast, to jolly outings, baths, jammies and stories at day’s end, these two thoroughly enjoy one another’s company.

It’s the call-and-response text in this book that separates it from the rest, and it’s an absolute blast! “When I say ‘I love,’ you say ‘you.’ I love…YOU! I love…YOU!

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Passing the words back and forth with young children in this singy, swingy rhythm can’t help but bring out the smiles!

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Alisa Coburn’s pigs are hugely endearing. Her delicate line and candy-colored palette fill the pages with breeziness and jovial energy. Great fun for ages 2 and up.

delivery-cover-imageDelivery, by Aaron Meshon
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Grandma looks at her calendar at the start of this almost-wordless story and spots a big red heart on it marking a very special day. It’s coming up quick! She’d better hurry!

Bustling away in the kitchen, Grandma zips together trays full of lipstick-red, heart-shaped cookies, then packs them tenderly in a box and seals it with love. The delivery man takes it from her doorstep, and we’re off!

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Off on the wildest, craziest, most exciting delivery route ever! By truck and ship, train and helicopter! Even by whale-spout and dog-sled! The package must go on! Hand it off! Hold on tight! Move it along!

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Meshon’s exuberant imagination and bold, stylish designs will utterly entrance young children. At story’s end is perhaps the most surprising picture of all! Don’t miss it — it’s on the endpapers.

Packed with smiles and love, for ages 2 and up.

i-heart-you-cover-imageI Heart You, written by Meg Fleming, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright
published in 2016 by Beach Lane Books

This sweet book is flush with tenderness, as soft and gentle as a lullaby.

Animal mamas and babies snuggle in burrows, romp in grassy patches, gather in nests, while a quietly-rhyming text describes all the ways those babies are loved.

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All this takes place near a bright red house with a large garden where another mama and her little girl are picking raspberries. In the dusky twilight, they enjoy loving one another, too.

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It’s a mellow, sweet refrain to share with little ones 18 months and up.

There are more Valentine’s-oriented titles in the Subject Index, if you like. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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I’ve drawn the winner of What Will Danny Do Today? It was lovely to read everyone’s wishes for what to do on a free day! If only I could grant each of those!

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At any rate, the book winner is…my dear friend, Julie Steller! Julie, I guess we need to have coffee soon so I can get that to you!

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I have books full of mother-love and grandmother-love and another gold-star winner from Matthew Cordell, all coming up on Monday, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Happy stories. Troll stories. Bonkers breakfast stories. And some gorgeous photography perfect for book-lovers. All coming in the next weeks. I love sharing these gems with you and being part of a wonderful, worldwide, reading community. How cool is that?!

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war-diaries-1939-1945-cover-imageWar Diaries, 1939-1945, written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated with family photos
first published in Sweden, 2015; first U.S. edition published in 2016 by Yale University Press

When I first heard late last year that Astrid Lindgren’s diaries from the World War II years were being published in the U.S., all my must-read buttons began flashing at once! Now I’ve read it, I want to pass on to you this remarkable piece of adult non-fiction.

Lindgren is Sweden’s most famous children’s author. Many

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14 COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14
COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Americans are sadly limited in their familiarity with her books, Pippi Longstocking being the only title immediately connected with her. Lindgren, though, has written dozens of wonderful stories, many of which have been translated. In fact, almost 100 different languages host at least one of her works.  In addition, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is among the most prestigious awards in children’s literature worldwide. You can read all about it here.

So, of course, as a lover of children’s literature, I am fond beyond words of Lindgren. Our family has immensely enjoyed reading aloud many of her books and we treasure our common memories of feisty Lotta, daring Bill Bergson, those darling children of Noisy Village, intrepid Ronia, and other equally vivid characters.

Christmas in Noisy Village

Christmas in Noisy Village

That’s what initially drew me to this compilation of her diary entries from 1939-1945, but what I read there goes far, far beyond children’s literature. Honestly, one gets only a glimmer of the beginnings of Lindgren’s illustrious, unexpected career in children’s literature. A glimpse of the publication of her first book, passing mentions of Pippi being written, and her surprise at Pippi’s reception are all tantalizing to come across.

Finnish victory, WWII

Finnish victory, WWII

What took me by surprise was how engrossing it is to read about World War II from a Swedish perspective. Lindgren was deeply thoughtful about the politics and maneuverings of the Scandinavian countries throughout the war. The plight of Finland, in particular, is largely overlooked in American histories, and as a person with Swede-Finn heritage, I was grateful to read about Finland’s intense and heroic plight, squeezed as they were between Stalin and Hitler. Norwegian resistance, Danish resistance, her unease over neutrality and unique perspective on what she believed was gained by that, the massive numbers of refugees welcomed by Sweden during the war — all of this captivated me.

Lindgren’s heart ached when confronted with the immense human toll of the war on populations across Europe. Her entries lament over the vast numbers of hungry and starving civilians, communities ravaged by both Russian and German armies, Jews who were harassed out of their homelands (though she was long unaware of the full extent of the Holocaust), Norwegians executed for their resistance, and German soldiers as well, fighting a war she guessed many of them did not believe in, an extraordinary perspective for someone in the midst of this carnage.

Astrid's war diary

Astrid’s war diary

Because she was employed by the Swedish government as a censor, Lindgren’s work involved reading personal letters written from all areas of Europe by ordinary people struggling to cope with war, loss, and simply putting food on the table. This gave Lindgren a much broader understanding of the impact of the war.  Given the global humanitarian crisis in our world just now, this is a timely read.

Whether you pick it up as a children’s literature aficionado, a fellow Scandinavian, or a history buff, then, you’ll find a great deal to love about this remarkable, personal narrative of those strenuous years.

I decided to re-read Pippi Longstocking in light of this new, fuller understanding of both Lindgren and the context in which she wrote the book. My copy is this wildly colorful edition illustrated by Lauren Child, published by Viking in 2007.

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I love the effervescent spunk Child introduces to the text through her explosive, personality-laden collages, and the clever manipulation of type to highlight particular shenanigans.

What I discovered was that knowing the circumstances of Lindgren’s life when she wrote Pippi, and the origins of it as bedtime stories for her daughter, made all the difference in how it reads!

What jumps off the page is the obvious appeal of what began as story-spinning for her young daughter, then for many more neighborhood children. Certainly these fantastical adventures and silly stories brought fresh vision and happy thoughts into the hearts of children, some of whom were terribly burdened with anxiety.

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The life of Pippi is not only chock-full of giggleworthy episodes, it is one with no stultifying rules during a period of annoying rationing and ham-fisted Nazi demands. Free as a bird, she is. Despite having no parents, Pippi is a strong, hopeful, self-sufficient girl. No need to worry about her! In one telling incident, Pippi attends the circus and accepts the ringmaster’s challenge to defeat the strongest man in the world, a fellow not-coincidentally named Strong Adolf. Pippi neatly pins him to the mat in one blink of an eye. Immensely satisfying. European children during WWII had to rise above their circumstances in heroic proportions, and Pippi was certainly a plucky role model.

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Bits and pieces from the Lindgren’s Swedish household are scattered throughout the story, too. Wouldn’t you do that, if you were spinning stories for your child? Coffee is drunk  commodiously! Heart-shaped gingersnaps, August pears, sugared pancakes — lots of delicious food comes to play in this story. Household chores, pippi-longstocking-illustration-detail-lauren-childoutdoor play, making music by blowing on a comb (a trick my Swedish grandfather taught me once upon a time) — choice elements of ordinary life are effortlessly woven into the fantasy.

If you’ve never read Pippi, you really should consider it. It’s a delightful read-aloud for children ages 4 and up. If it has been awhile since you read it, I think you’d enjoy giving it another read keeping in mind the world in which Pippi was born.

Here are Amazon links for both books. I keep forgetting to put these in! I am an Amazon Associate meaning you can do me a favor by clicking through a link on my blog before purchasing something from Amazon. I get a little dab from them each time that happens. Thanks!

Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries 1939-1945

Pippi Longstocking

 

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Today I’ve got two books replete with the pleasures of the ordinary.

Both books draw children in by presenting them with an array of choices to make, always a favorite activity for my kids when they were young. Such interesting conversations open up this way.

One of the books I’m giving away — details at the end of the post.

today-cover-imageToday, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad
published in 2016 by Simply Read Books

I am head-over-heels in love with Canadian artist Julie Morstad’s illustration work and her lovely portrayal of uncluttered, soothingly-simple childhoods. I’ve featured a number of her books over the years on Orange Marmalade. You can find them via the Search box if you please, or visit her website here

This one meanders through one day in a style reminiscent of Gyo Fujikawa’s book Oh What a Busy Day — one of our all-time favorites.

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Morstad’s pure, charming drawings fill the pages with clothes, hairstyles, breakfasts, outings, sweet treats, bits and bobs found in a child’s bedroom — and invite children to pick out what they like best. Where would you like to go today? And how will you get there? Which pajamas would you choose?

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Oh, the expansiveness that arises in a two-year-old’s heart when presented with such delectable choices! And of course, with Morstad, they are all imaginative, creative, full-of-life choices. 

I love this book. It’s one to enjoy again and again with children ages 2 and up.

what-will-danny-do-today-cover-imageWhat Will Danny Do Today? written by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Sam Usher
first American edition published in 2016 by Kane Miller

Coming to us from the UK, this book has a similar concept — a presentation of all kinds of choices Danny faces in his day. Clothes. Recess activities. Art projects. Bedtime stories. And for each, we are invited to help him choose.

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The feel of this book is quite different however. Sam Usher has given it an immensely energetic vibe with his scribbly black line, crammed-in compositions, vibrant colors, and perspectives that plunge us right into the scenes. It’s perfect for busy bees!

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In addition, the book is printed on heavy-duty, glossy, card stock pages, making it much less fragile when loved by toddlers and preschoolers.

Great fun and another book that I’d guess would become a well-worn favorite for ages 18 months and up.

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And thanks to the generosity of the folks at Kane Miller — I have a copy to give away!

Enter by commenting below telling us what you would choose to do today if it was up to you! I’ll pick the winner out of a hat on Thursday, February 9.
U.S. shipping addresses only, please. Sorry!

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I want to think that all of us, no matter our opinion on the recent Executive Order in the U.S., have hearts of compassion for refugees.

One thing I am concerned about is the politicization of compassion. That in order to support the president, some might choose to suppress thinking about the war-weary, talking about the current humanitarian disaster, remembering brave people who sheltered Jews at the risk of their own lives, and cultivating compassion for the downtrodden, persecuted, threatened ones in our world. In an attempt to feel positive about the order, it is tempting to downplay the wretchedness of the situation. That is a tragedy.

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Let’s choose to walk in others’ shoes and increase our understanding and compassion, no matter our political persuasion. Shuttering our hearts is not a value of any decent political or religious group.

To that end I’ve compiled a list of books that I’ve previously reviewed. Each is linked to the original review.

I encourage us — all of us — to read books that help us feel more compassion. It’s not political.

1. I did a post about Muslims and refugees a little over a year ago with links to many of the best titles on my blog. You can access that here:

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sowing seeds of peace and refuge

2. This past year I shared many stories about sheltering Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Here are those links:

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Anne Frank

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Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

irena's jars of secrets cover image

Irena’s Jars of Secrets

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The Butterfly

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Always Remember Me

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Passage to Freedom

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Hidden

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His Name was Raoul Wallenberg

the grand mosque of paris cover image

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of how Muslims Rescued Jews during the Holocaust

the greatest skating race cover image

The Greatest Skating Race

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The Lion and the Unicorn

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Odette’s Secrets

3. Here are more titles about the immigrant and refugee experience not included in that first grouping:

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We Came to America

their great gift cover image

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land

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The Journey

goodbye 382 shin dang dong cover image

Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong

grandfather's journey cover

Grandfather’s Journey

the matchbox diary cover image

The Matchbox Diary

my father's boat

My Father’s Boat

my name is sangoel cover image

My Name is Sangoel

the thanksgiving door cover image

The Thanksgiving Door

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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

ting ting cover image by aileen kamonzeki

Ting Ting

the turtle of oman cover image

The Turtle of Oman

it ain't so awful falafel cover image

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

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A Long Pitch Home

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Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War

dreams of freedom cover image

Dreams of Freedom

4. Finally, I love this nativity story reminding us that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were refugees:

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Refuge

 

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School Ship Tobermory, written by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh
published in Scotland in 2015; first U.S. edition 2016 by Delacorte Press

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You may know him as the author of the vast No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but Alexander McCall Smith has written a number of chapter books for young readers as well.

This latest one is a fast-clipped adventure set on a school ship. That is, this lucky crew of boys and girls are going to school aboard the good ship Tobermory, learning the ropes of sailing and having a few other lessons to boot, while sailing among the islands off the Scottish mainland. Nice gig, huh?

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Not so fast, though, because although the majority of these children are responsible, well-mannered, bright, and eager persons, there are a few bad apples in the barrel. Nasty ol’ William Edward Hardtack, for one. He and his fellow bullies aim to rule the ship with snark and cruelty.

Ben and Fee, twelve-year-old twins, are the newest students aboard the Tobermory. It doesn’t take but a hot minute for them to land on the wrong side of Hardtack and Co. That means that as well as learning how to scrabble up those impossibly high masts and how to use proper sailing terminology — That’s not a staircase! It’s a companionway, if you please! — they’ve got to outmaneuver the rotten tricks of the bully squad.

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The adventures are ratcheted up when a film crew on a neighboring vessel take on some Tobermory students as extras. Ben is one of those lucky kids, but before long, he’s sniffed out some mighty suspicious activity aboard the Albatross. What are they really up to?

Smith’s story reads like a tale from bygone days. There’s a simplicity, naiveté, and old-fashioned decorum of language that makes this feel a bit like a story written in the 1950s. The bad guys are thoroughly bad. The good folks are 100% good. The conflict is a straightforward cinch to follow. Even the danger, though there is potential for great harm, never turns violent, and at the height of his distress, the Captain’s strongest exclamation is, “My Goodness!”

The book takes an unusual tack with the illustrations, inserting comic panels at various places within the story that recap some of the recent events. These make for jolly interruptions.

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All of this makes the book a great choice for young-but-advanced readers. A 7-year-old with mad reading skills could make her way through this without being in over her head with mature content, even though it’s 215 pages long. My one quibble is McCall’s repeated references to one student’s “rather large front teeth” a completely unnecessary detraction and unfortunate focus on appearance. The second Tobermory tale, The Sands of Shark Island, is already out in the UK.

 

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