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Archive for the ‘graphic novels’ Category

Searching for just the right gift for an adult on your list?
 Books marketed for children can be spot-on for grown ups, too!

Here are a few ideas:

Are they passionate about immigration?

Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

This is the only book on today’s list that hasn’t been on my blog yet so just let me say: It is tremendous!

Dave Eggers, with his nonchalant, conversational tone, wows us with fascinating tidbits about our treasured Statue of Liberty, all building up to a surprising reveal about that Lady’s right foot! Shawn Harris knocks it out of the ballpark with his strong, vibrant artwork. 

This one sneaks up on you with understatement, then moves you to tears. One of the best of 2017, for ages 5 through Adult.

Do they treasure the beauty of flora and fauna?

Try: The Lost Words (review here)

Are they enamored with words?

Try: Ounce Dice, Trice (review here)

Do they dream of world travels?

Try: City Atlas (review here)

Did they recently become parents after a long, difficult wait?

Try: Wish (review here)

Have they loved books since they were knee-high to a grasshopper?

Try: A Child of Books (review here)

Are they allergic to morning?

Try: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes (review here)

Is Norse mythology their thing?

Try: Odd and the Frost Giants (review here)

Do they cry every time they watch You’ve Got Mail?

Try: Skating Shoes (review here)

Need a book for your favorite feminist?

Try: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (review here)

Have someone interested in African-American history? 

Try: Freedom Over Me (review here)

Or: Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (review here)

Or: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (review here)

Or: March Trilogy (review here

Would they appreciate a gorgeous Minnesota read?

Try: Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (review here)

Are they jazzed by Art Deco?

Try: Snow White: A Graphic Novel (review here)

In addition, you might consider…

…a children’s book written by an author they love. I’ve reviewed children’s books by Sylvia Plath, Salman Rushdie, Aldous HuxleySherman Alexie, Chinua Achebe, Jane Gardam, Frank McCourt, Sigrid Undset, and a number of others you might consider.…a favorite book from their childhood that’s out of print now. It might take some tricky questioning to find out which stories they loved best decades ago, but especially for friends or family members getting on in years, this might be a lovely gift. Amazon and Abe Books are great sources for purchasing out-of-print titles.

Know any other children’s books that feel like perfect grown-up gifts? Let us know in the comments!

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I’ve been on a mission lately to find great new reads packed with action, adventure, mystery, humor, grit. Books you might hand to those who might not relish quieter, understated, or more relationship-centric stories. And I found some winners! I loved every one of these:

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, by Avi
published in 2017 by Algonquin Young Readers
313 pages

High adventure, derring-do, rogues a-plenty, villains, thieves, pickpockets, wretched poorhouses, Dickensian schoolmasters, and the constant threat of a hanging hovering about our dear Oliver’s head — that’s the flavor of this action-packed yarn from one of the great storytellers, Avi.

Taking place in and near London, 1724, the story is steeped in period atmosphere, told with an olde-fashioned-y English flavor, seasoned with gusto and wit. Run, hide, dodge, and escape with our 12-year-old hero as he finds himself caught up in a criminal world and searches through smoggy, mucky London for help. You won’t catch your breath until the very last page, and even then, we’re teased with one final line: To be continued in Book Two! 10 and up.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke
published in 2017 by First Second
207 pages

Don’t miss the final episode of Ben Hatke’s thrilling, fantasy, graphic novel trilogy! If you’ve missed the first two books in the series, do not pass go, do not collect $200 before grabbing them from your library and setting out with Jack and Lilly. You can read my review of those here.

When we left off, Jack’s little sister Maddy, a non-verbal child on the spectrum, had been captured by an ogre emerging through an other-worldly portal. The portal itself emerged courtesy of some crazily-bewitched seeds Jack and Maddy planted in their back yard. Ever-bold, audacious Lilly and fiercely-loyal, intrepid Jack charge after her.

What they encounter there, the hazards to be overcome, the enormously-surprising species, and one sweet vintage Shelby Mustang — will have you turning the pages madly, grinning, cringing, and cheering.

Also — Hatke leaves us with quite the teaser ending! A series to relish for ages 7 and up.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, by Jordan Sonnenblick
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press
193 pages

Jordan Sonnenblick creates realistic fiction with biting wit, dry sarcasm, and a host of flawed characters who unapologetically steal our hearts. This latest title of his is no exception, an unflinching look at understanding the backstories of the glitchy people we meet and what it actually means to be a hero.

Maverick is the shrimpiest kid in sixth grade. He’s also missing a dad, and the mom he’s got is mostly out-of-commission due to severe alcoholism and a penchant to drift from one abusive relationship to the next. He attracts bullies like raw meat beckons flies, and when he tries to heroically stand up for others his efforts tend to backfire and land him in detention. Yet Maverick is determined to make his school a better place for others.

How does a kid like this make it? Part of the answer lies in a couple of exceptional adults in his life who stick with him, choose to see potential in this loyal, well-meaning, hurting boy. The other part of the answer is his deep reservoir of desire, a desire to be one of the good guys.

The dysfunctional home lives of kids in your school and neighborhood are laid out here in all their non-glory, as is the difference a person can make and the real meaning of heroism. With humor and grit, it will transform perspectives of its readers, ages 11 and up.

Clementine Loves Red, written by Krystyna Boglar, illustrated by Bohdan Butenko, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Zosia Krasodomska-Jones
originally published in Poland in 1970; English translation published in 2017 by Pushkin Children’s Books
192 pages

This new English translation of a classic Polish children’s book has all the verve you might expect from its racy-tomato-red cover and those slightly off-kilter drawings.

With characters ranging from a small boy called Pudding, to a grouchy artist named Phosphorus Twisk, one forlorn girl by the name of Macadamia, several frantic policeman, a German Shepard called Pickles, and a sneezing car, the story takes on a lovely quirkiness. Throw in a madcap search for the lost Clementine… in the nighttime forest…during a cracking storm…with all the bumbling and near-misses of the Keystone Cops — and you’ll arrive at its zesty, witty flavor.

Butenko’s wobbly, eccentric line drawings, all done in that same splash of red, add greatly to the book’s excellent design. It’s quite a ride from start to finish for readers ages 8 and up. Could also be read-aloud to those a bit younger. (Contains a few expletives in the heat of the chase and several references to “playing Red Indians.”)

Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz, written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
published in 2017 by Harper Collins

Michael Morpurgo, one of  children’s literature’s godfathers you might say, has retold the classic Wizard of Oz story from Toto’s point of view. It reads with ease, doggy-friendliness, and a pleasant degree of informality. Boosting the story’s panache are Emma Chichester Clark’s flamboyantly colorful, cheery illustrations, strewn generously throughout.

Morpurgo has followed the original story to a large degree, though he digresses from both the original and the classic Judy Garland film at some points. He’s added in Toto’s predilection for sausages which works very well as a running theme and condensed the action for an evenly clipped tale.

Children ages 6 and up will enjoy this and it would make a fine read-aloud as well. If they like it enough, it could act as a gateway to L. Frank Baum’s original story with the challenge of spotting the differences (I predict some great surprises!), as well as Baum’s many other Oz stories. Several of my daughters loved that whole series when they were young. It’s a treasure trove for young, voracious readers. 

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I’ve been accumulating a list of reads on race in America. It now looks long enough to last me about a decade, which is not a bad thing. I’ll pop on from time to time with posts alerting you to the best of what I’ve read.

Today, I’ve got four stellar choices for middle grade readers through adults, books that decry injustice, inspire courage and sacrificial love, and educate us on the blood-soaked backdrop to today’s passionate discourse — a background we all must work to understand.

Each of these books addresses Black-White race relations. I’ll have titles covering a broader scope of racial relationships coming up so stay tuned.

At the top of the list today are:

March, Books 1, 2, and 3, written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
published in 2013, 2015, and 2016 respectively, by Top Shelf Productions

This graphic novel trilogy is unusually powerful — moving, enlightening, vivid, and informative. I highly recommend it for ages 14 through adult.

The story arc is the life journey of Congressman John Lewis and his engagement in the civil rights movement. Broad segments of civil rights history are dovetailed into the account to provide context for the more personal spotlight on Lewis himself. The inauguration of Barack Obama effectively book-ends the narrative.

I found that although I had previously read many segments of civil rights history, having it laid out in chronological order within a storyline was helpful for me. The books were also clarifying in terms of the alphabet-soup of civil rights groups who coalesced, debated, butted heads, tolerated, linked arms, pressed on, along the way. Living in that moment, making decisions fraught with danger, figuring it out as they went along, was difficult, so much more difficult than it sometimes looks in retrospect.

Most importantly for me as a White reader, the trilogy helped me better comprehend the weight borne by these men, women, and children, helped me feel the suffering, indignation, humiliation, grief, inner fire, unjust assaults, the long slog without any idea what the outcome would be or if they would live to see victory, the geyser of gladness over the election of our first Black president. This account also helped me grant more space, patience, and understanding for protesters today who struggle and fumble and disagree with one another in this complex movement, determining which steps to take, which goals to pursue, which methods to employ. Civil disobedience is hard, muddlesome work; judgement tends to be quickly passed by those in the comfortable seats; the path was not clear then, and it will not be clear now.

Each volume is a fairly quick read so don’t be put off by the thought of a trilogy. Just be forewarned that you’ll want to go back and read them again.

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
320 pages

Stella is a young African-American girl living in the segregated world of rural North Carolina in the late 1930s.

The Depression is making life even tougher for her household and community than usual. It’s pinching the toes of whites in the area, too, giving rise to new waves of anger and lashing out by the KKK.

What does bravery look like in this context? And neighborliness? And an honest, standing up for truth, freedom, and decency? Great read for ages 9-12 highlighting Jim Crow, the KKK, the struggle for the right to vote, and unjust schooling under separate-but-(un)equal policies.

Night of Fire, by Ronald Kidd
published in 2015 by Albert Whitman & Company
264 pages

Billie Sims is a 13-year-old white girl living in Aniston, Alabama, a town made infamous when a busload of Freedom Riders were violently, horrifically attacked there.

Billie’s on a journey of her own throughout this story, one of self-discovery, a growing awareness of racist attitudes within her “nice” community, family, and herself. Her friendships with the boy next door and the daughter of her family’s African-American maid help bring about a rising sense of what she might be put in the world to do.

Will she be a watcher, an on-looker of injustice? Or will she become a rider, one who puts her own life on the line, even, for a just cause? Lots of great discussion points in this book that leans a bit female, I’d say. Ages 13 and up.

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights, written by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
published in 2016 by Calkins Creek

Most biographies of civil rights workers cover people from the Black community, and rightfully so.

There were, however, a number of White civil rights workers who died in the struggle for decency and equality, notably the three Freedom Riders killed in Mississippi. This account of a young man — Jonathan Daniels — who gave up his life at the age of 26 — was new to me. It’s a potent story that calls us to self-examination.

Daniels grew up in a well-ordered world in Keene, New Hampshire, found his calling as a minister and began seminary training, became incensed by Bloody Sunday, drove to Alabama to stand with the Black community during the week immediately following that attack, and then could not justify to his own conscience leaving Alabama and those embroiled in the civil rights struggle there. He stayed on.

His unswerving dedication to justice, love, non-violence, loyalty, confrontation of evil, gained him not only rich friendships but malevolent enemies. In the end he gave up his life defending his Black companions, shot in cold blood in Lowndes County, then the heart of segregationist Alabama. A sham trial exonerated his killer.

The Wallaces’ account is riveting. It starts a bit slowly, I have to say. I began this book once before and didn’t press on far enough. The chapters about Daniels’ childhood and time at Virginia Military Institute were a bit more detailed than I was looking for. Keep reading, though. The book picks up in intensity and becomes inescapably thought-provoking as soon as Bloody Sunday occurs.

The other difficulty with this book is its unwieldy size — about as heavy and large as some coffee table books with its thick, glossy pages. This enables the larger print and copious photographs which make the book easy on the eyes, but I’m afraid it will turn away many readers.

I’m here to encourage you to read it anyway! Great book club choice as there is so much to discuss here for ages 13 and up. The call to conscience for those of us on the privileged side of of the divide, is uncomfortably powerful.

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June 20th is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day.

I have no idea, really, how your heart cannot break for the plight of refugees, fleeing unspeakable violence, crushing famine, and intense persecution. Some are so terribly young, to have experienced such trauma.

These innocents then face long years in crowded refugee camps, repeatedly dashed hopes, painful losses. When they do finally arrive in a new land of hope, they are sometimes met with suspicion, resentment, and meanness.

Oh, dear world. We must do better. Let’s cultivate compassion in ourselves and our children. Today’s books are stepping stones in that direction. I’ve arranged them in order of accessibility by age. Links to past posts with many other excellent titles are included at the end of the post.

Where Will I Live?, written and photographed by Rosemary McCarney
published in 2017 by Second Story Press

Coming to us from Canada, this striking photoessay brings the contemporary refugee situation into brilliant focus for young children.

McCarney provides Mr. Rogers-esque words to explain this tragedy to the very young. “Sometimes scary things happen to good people. When soldiers fight or danger comes, families must pack their things and search for a safe place to live.

As she traces their varied journeys, one little refugee girl wonders aloud where she will land and live. Brief photo captions essentially tell the story while McCarney’s excellent, child-centric photos reveal harsh realities in a palpable yet cushioned, non-traumatic way.

If you want to build a heart of compassion in young children, this is a fabulous, top-of-the-list title. Ages 18 months and up.

My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
published in 2017 by Pajama Press

A young Syrian boy flees with his family to a refugee camp in Jordan when their home and city are destroyed. The hardest part of leaving is saying goodbye to his beloved pigeons.

Although this may strike us as surprising, it really does reflect the workings of a child’s heart, doesn’t it? The pieces of ordinary life and familiarity which glue a child to his home are often unknown and undervalued by adults, yet fasten these little ones to a place or a person with emotional superglue.

In his new refugee camp home, anxiety and grief weigh the boy down, silence him, while his family and friends try to begin new routines of life, until the day when a group of new, beautiful birds flutters into the camp and resurrects joy in his young heart.

Based on the experiences of a young boy in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this glimpse of the overarching as well as deeply personal, individual losses for refugee children is poignant but not too heavy. Colorful, clay-sculpted illustrations create friendly, engaging visuals as well. Ages 4 and up. Thanks, Canada.

Azzi In Between, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
first published in the UK in 2012; first U.S. edition 2013 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

War in an unnamed Middle Eastern country creeps ever closer to Azzi’s family, then with one pounce drives them from home in a sudden, frantic rush. Azzi flees with her mother and father, but her dear Grandma must stay behind.

Hiding under blankets, driving through darkness, anxiously making their way through checkpoints, racing to an overfilled boat, crossing tumultuous seas — fear and panic engulf each stage of their journey. Next comes the confusion of learning new ways in an utterly new land — new language, new clothes, new etiquette, new everything.

Gradually Azzi grows accustomed to her surroundings, but the separation from Grandma remains so very hard to bear. Their final reunion resolves this story happily, a necessary ingredient for this book’s young audience.

This superb graphic-novel narrative of the refugee experience will immensely help children (and adults) better understand and have compassion for refugees in our midst. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
published in 2016 by Orca Book Publishers

The incredible artwork in this book has been created by a Syrian artist from stones he finds along the Mediterranean coast near his home of Latakia.

Canadian author Margriet Ruurs glimpsed his work on-line and a global collaboration began, resulting in this poignant narrative. Ruurs weaves a simple, poetic account of a young Syrian girl, her happy life grounded at home, harrowing flight from war, and warm welcome to a new land of hope. The depth and spirit of the book come from Nizar Ali Badr’s powerful sculptural pieces. It is remarkable how much emotion is conveyed through his artistic compositions.

An Arabic translation is included along with a lengthy explanation of how the book was created. Inspirational in a number of ways, for ages 5 and up.

The Color of Home, written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2002 by Phyllis Fogelman Books

Hassan is a young Somali refugee, an overwhelmed newcomer in his school. Despite the children’s kindness, there is a dark cloud in his heart and an inability to communicate in those difficult English words.

At painting time, Hassan uses brilliant colors to create a picture of his former home, the sunbaked land and piercing blue sky flooded with light and happiness. When he layers angry strokes of black bullets, bruised purple skies, and snarls of blood red atop this scene, however, his teacher glimpses the pain he carries.

Through the help of a Somali translator, Hassan is able to tell his difficult story and move towards healing. The terror and violence of war are portrayed here, though with some subtlety and a rapid, hopeful resolution. Vibrant watercolor illustrations will draw young children into the story. I’d guess this would suit ages 5 and older but you will need to use your judgement.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival, written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines
published in 2016 by Pajama Press

This stunning book tells the story of Tuan Ho, who at age 6 was forced to flee Vietnam with his mother and sisters.

It was 1981. Tuan’s father, who had worked for the American army as a translator, had fled a year earlier as communist soldiers descended to execute all “enemies of the people.” It was now too dangerous for the family to wait any longer for word from him, and in a hail of bullets, Tuan races away from his home.

His flight would be traumatic: terror, grief, gunfire, strangers, and perilous days adrift at sea. This taut account conveys exceptionally well just what refugee children endure, enlarging our compassion and will to be among those who welcome, comfort, and receive them today.

Deines’ brilliant paintings easily carry the weight of this story and knit our hearts to Tuan’s family. An afterword, accompanied by some personal photographs from Tuan,  provides background to the exodus of the “boat people” from Vietnam and tells more about Tuan’s family’s journey. This picture book is clearly meant for very young children but because of it’s content, I’d encourage you to use your judgement. Probably ages 5 or 6 and up. Again, this one’s from Canada.

The Banana Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
pubished in 2017 by Kids Can Press

Again from Canada, this book is part of the fantastic Citizen Kid series from Kids Can Press. I have reviewed quite a few of these titles over the years.

Deo Rukundo flees from his war-torn home in Burundi only to be separated from his family in the midst of the chaos. He makes his way, barely, to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. There he finds enough food and water to survive, yet also bumps up against tough gangs which have formed and which make life miserable for other boys.

When a man arrives with a whistle round his neck, a real, leather soccer ball, and a plan for these rival boys to play soccer together, Deo initially declines, but his world and relationships are transformed when the coach succeeds in drawing him in.

Highlighting the transformative power of play to help bring healing to children of conflict, this book soars via Shane Evans’ gripping mixed media illustrations, It includes an afterword about the man on whom this story is based and the work of Right to Play and other similar organizations. Ages 7 and up.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom, written by Dia Cha, stitched by Chue and Nhia Thao Cha
published in 1996 by Lee & Low Books in cooperation with the Denver Museum of Natural History

Those of us in the Twin Cities remember well the arrival of thousands of Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia to our bitterly cold state back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most of us knew almost nothing about them let alone the heroic roles many had played on behalf of our own nation. Now we have several Hmong state senators, hundreds who have earned doctorate degrees — yet many still do not really understand all that this people experienced.

This story of one 15-year old’s terrifying journey out of Laos to Thailand and eventually to the United States, dramatically informs us about their sweet life in Laos destroyed by war, the terrors and losses endured, the harrowing journey made, while simultaneously highlighting the incredible artwork of Hmong embroiderers.

The book is illustrated by photographs of an immense, detailed story cloth stitched by the author’s aunt and uncle in a Thai refugee camp. This painful story should be required reading for any Minnesotan as well as those in Denver, Fresno, and elsewhere who rub shoulders with Hmong Americans. Share it with ages 9 and up. The lengthy, fascinating afterword tells more Hmong history and craftsmanship.

Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary, written by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allan
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Mohammed was just six years old when he and his mother were forced to flee for their lives from Kirkuk, Iraq, but the dark times for his family had begun years before that. As ethnic Kurds, members of his family were harassed and killed by the Hussein regime. The last straw was a vicious beating for all, including little Mohammed, and the disappearance of his father at the hands of soldiers.

His harrowing flight was only bearable because there was literally no choice. Mohammed arrived in the UK an emotionally scarred boy, but through the compassion of those welcoming refugees there, he and his mum were able to begin new lives.

This book is part of a series from the UK in which young refugees tell their stories in their own words, accompanied by family photographs and illuminating illustrations. Harsh realities, made accessible to kids ages 10 and up.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees, written by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare
published in 2017 by Annick Press

So many excellent humanitarian titles come from Canadian presses and I’ve tried to highlight this fact today.  I am so thankful for this Canadian priority. Here’s a final one for today.

In a book geared towards older readers, probably ages 10 and older, Mary Beth Leaderdale unfolds the distressing, true stories of five children over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries who have fled persecution.

Ruth is a Jewish girl who fled Naziism by boat to Cuba. Phu is a Vietnamese boy who fled the communists as one of the “boat people” in the crisis of the 1970s. José fled Cuba in the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Najeeba is an ethnic Hazara who fled Afghanistan for Australia. Mohamed left the Ivory Coast as an orphan and eventually crossed the Mediterranean from Libya.

Their stories are wrenching, with many shocking details spelled out. They bear the grit of reality and spare few punches for governments who denied or attempted to deny safe harbor to refugees or abused them upon arrival. Succinct background notes on the conflicts the children fled and maps of their journeys help give context. By-the-numbers lists provide bold relief from the longer narratives. Sections telling about the lives each of these kids grew up to lead, provide hope.

It’s an eye-opener for older kids prepared to grapple with painful realities.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, written by Ibtisam Barakat
published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
170 pages

Ibtisam Barakat was just 3-1/2 years old when the Six Day War erupted, displacing, traumatizing, and utterly changing her life, her family, her people. 

Her powerful, gorgeously-written memoir of those childhood experiences brings us into the world of Palestinian refugees with eloquence and sorrow. The profound importance of home and family, the trauma of abandonment and separation, the grief of loss, are remarkably imparted through her lyric prose. 

Understanding the on-going Palestinian heartbreak is critical for us. This year marks 50 years since the Six Day War. That’s an intolerably long time to be displaced, while simultaneously short enough to keep these memories sharp. 

I highly recommend this book for ages 14 through adult. The cultural details are fascinating, and her war-time experiences offer universal insights into the lives of  refugees fleeing other conflicts. It’s catalogued as children’s nonfiction in my library but this is really not a children’s book. War, trauma, memories of a sexual assault, and even some graphic descriptions of her brothers’ circumcisions at ages 7 and 8 — all are written with a measure of subtlety, yet with candor and vigor. They are emotionally challenging. There certainly are those younger than 14 who could handle this book, but I’ll leave that to your discretion.

I’ve reviewed many other excellent books about refugees in the past. I strongly encourage you to find them through these links to earlier posts. 

compassion ought not to be political: read about refugees

sowing seeds of peace and refuge

I’ll highlight a few of those picture book titles here:

The Journey

Refuge

Four Feet Two Sandals

How Many Days to America

And here are links to some chapter books/middle grade novels about the refugee experience, any of which would make a fine read for an adult as well:

The Day My Father Became a Bush (undefined; vaguely European)

Home of the Brave (Sudan)

The House of Sixty Fathers (China)

Inside Out & Back Again (Vietnam)

A Long Walk to Water (Sudan)

The Red Pencil (Sudan)

Join me throughout the rest of the summer for a world tour introducing children to cultures from Greenland to Zimbabwe through fabulous picture books. Just follow the blog to receive notice of these posts via e-mail.
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And spread the word on these excellent resources for growing understanding and compassion by sharing this post via social media or word of mouth!

 

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As promised, here’s my list of the best under-100-pages chapter books I’ve read in the past months.

Be sure to check the Title index for 50 more great easy chapter books — some of my all-time favorites are already there!

I’ve tried to list these in a semblance of order from easiest (largest print, most space devoted to pictures) to most challenging (similar in difficulty to any chapter book but under 100 pages.)

Boris Gets a Lizard, written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2011 by Scholastic
72 pages

The Boris books, coming to us out of Australia, are a complete delight. Colorful, energetic, friendly, heavily-illustrated, and perfectly suited to both boys and girls. Each one has a little craft project to go with the story. Click here to read more about this jaunty series.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton
published in 2016 by Tundra Books
64 pages

This graphic-novel style book is predominantly visual, loaded with cheer and energy. Its ocean-dwelling characters sparkle with personality and the text incorporates some jazzy puns. Short, snappy, silly, but with cool science facts and an appeal to imagination tossed in for good measure. It’ll be a hit with older beginning readers as well. Sequel coming.

 

Agnes and Clarabelle and Agnes and Clarabelle Celebrate,  written by Adele Griffin and Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Sara Palacios
both published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
73 pages

Agnes the pig and Clarabelle the chick are two dear friends who support, cheer, and thoroughly enjoy one another all year long. Sweet, happy adventures, easily-solved problems, and sunny, perky illustrations make up these gems.

The Princess in Black, written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
89 pages

The first in a dynamic series starring Princess Magnolia who chafes at prim and proper and thrills to action and heroics!  When the monster-alarm goes off, Magnolia ditches the tea and crumpets, dons her black super-hero outfit, and blitzes to the rescue! Brilliantly illustrated, captivating stories.

Stinky Spike the Pirate Dog, written by Peter Meisel, illustrated by Paul Meisel
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
73 pages

Spike is an enthusiastic dog with a keen appreciation for stuff that stinks! Working on the docks suits him perfectly, then, with all those fishy, seaweedy, scaley smells wafting in on the ocean breezes. Spike’s dockhand adventures take a wild turn when he’s washed out to sea and encounters sharks, whales, and a passel of pirates! Jolly good story, heaps of space devoted to jaunty illustations, large print, and at least one more Spike story available. Yo ho ho!

The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, written by Judy Blume, illustrated by Amy Aitken
published in 1981 by Yearling, Random House
39 pages

A darling, now-vintage read from one of the greats, Judy Blume, celebrating the specialness of that oft-overlooked middle child. Warm, happy, and really short. This makes a great transition away from the brightly-colored, illustration-heavy pages of some of the earlier titles on the list.

The Magician’s Boy, written by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Serena Riglietti
published in 2005 by Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster
100 pages

Award-winning novelist Susan Cooper has written this delightful, short fantasy, polka-dotted with famous nursery story characters yet ratcheted up into an adventure worthy of kids in elementary grades. Fantastic writing, engagingly- formatted, with cool illustration work. Large print and plenty of white space make this one unimposing.

Maybelle in the Soup, written by Katie Speck, illustrated by Paul Rátz de Tagyos
published in 2007 by Henry Holt and Company
58 pages

My years in West Africa certainly didn’t make me susceptible to falling in love with a cockroach! But the irrepressible Maybelle won me over in a heartbeat anyway!

Maybelle is “a lovely, plump cockroach” who lives alongside her best bud Henry the Flea in the posh household of the most persnickety of folks, Myrtle and Herbert Peabody. This story zings along with the slapstick comedy of Laurel and Hardy. Large-ish print interspersed with gray scale illustrations. A hilarious, lively choice and there are several Maybelle sequels.

The Infamous Ratsos, written by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers
published in 2016 by Candlewick
57 pages

Two rat brothers, Louie and Ralphie, aim to be tough, tough, tough like their dad, but accidentally keep doing good deeds instead! Funny, full of moxie and heart, and not a bit cutesy. Large print, but black-and-white illustrations give it a more mature feel. Great choice for reluctant readers.

Busybody Nora, written by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Debbie Tilley
published in 1976 by Harper Trophy (illustrations copyright 2001)
96 pages

A delightful vintage read set in a New York City apartment building with one extroverted child determined to build a community out of her disparate neighbors. Spunk, neighborliness, resourcefulness, and joy. A sprinkling of full-page, black-and-white illustrations break up the large-print text.

Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot — Anna Bradford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
first published in Australia; first U.S. edition 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
102 pages

Violet is an imaginative, loving girl whose attempts at self-sufficiency sometimes backfire and sometimes achieve brilliant results. I was rooting for her from page one. I love that this story revolves around family, and a warm, single-parent, working-hard-to-keep-up-with-the-bills family at that. Large-ish print, b&w illustrations, and several sequels.

More Stories Julian Tells, written by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell
published in 1986 by Random House
82 pages

The Julian stories by Ann Cameron are some of my favorites. See my review of the first in this series here. This volume contains five more tales about this wonderful boy, his little brother, Huey, and best friend, Gloria. So much warmth, good humor, and real childhood crafted by a talented writer. I’m posting an older version of the cover as I like it so much better than the newer ones. The interior illustrations by Ann Strugnell are top-notch. Huey, Gloria, and even the dog also have titles from their point of view so search for more in your library.

Mouse Scouts, written and illustrated by Sarah Dillard
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
105 pages

The Mouse Scouts is like Brownies for mice and this little troop is hard at work earning their Sow It and Grow It badge. Heaps of cuteness, a spice of adventure, clever pages from the Mouse Scout Handbook, sequels featuring different badge pursuits, and on-line activity pages make this series especially suited to girls ages 5-9.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes, written by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad
first published in 1961; republished by New York Review Children’s Collection in 2010
56 pages

This vintage charmer is a cookbook for dolls. It’s comprised of dozens of recipes to be happily concocted in the out-of-doors with ingredients harvested by the cooks — dandelions, seed pods, rainwater, minced grass.

Illustrated impeccably with Blegvad’s masterful pen-and-ink lines, it’s a lovely summons to imaginative outdoor play that will never grow old so long as children aren’t lulled into catatonic states via virtual electronic games. Challenging vocabulary but heavily illustrated. Hand it to an advanced young reader and send ’em outside.

Wolfie and Fly, written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si
published in 2017 by Tundra Books
86 pages

Renata Wolfman, aka Wolfie, is a solitary, unemotional gal, a lone wolf. Livingston Floot, aka Fly, is an extroverted, creative fellow.  A chance meeting of these two results in a superbly-imaginative afternoon. A blast of fun and personality with a promised sequel.

Hamster Magic, written by Lynne Jonell, illustrated by Brandon Dorman
published in 2010 by Random House
103 pages

Wishes gone awry. Talking hamsters. Siblings clandestinely coping with magical mayhem. Minnesota author Lynne Jonell’s adventurous tale reads like a junior-size version of Edward Eager’s and E. Nesbit’s stories. Delightful fantasy with several sequels in her Magical Mix-Ups series. Great intro both to Jonell’s other novels or to Eager’s and Nesbit’s classic works.

Mush, A Dog From Space, written by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
text copyright 1995; illustrations copyright 2002; by Aladdin
55 pages

Daniel Pinkwater’s fizzing imagination has brought us so many wacky tales. This short account of Kelly Mangiaro and a talking mushamute from solar system Arfturus is splendid and eccentric. Great choice for older reluctant readers.

Seesaw Girl, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng
published in 1999 by Clarion Books
87 pages

Linda Sue Park has become one of my favorite writers over the years. This was her first children’s novel, I think, and many years ago it was our introduction to her as well, a splendid piece of historical fiction set in 17th century Korea. 

Jade Blossom is the daughter of a noble family and as such has an extremely circumscribed life, tucked away from the eyes of the world in her family’s courtyards, unable to see and experience life outside of those walls. Her yearning to know more and cleverness in doing so are tempered by love and respect for her family and a commitment to bring them no shame.

Great story with mountains of rich detail about this time and place and lovely grey-scale watercolor illustrations.

My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood, written by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Peter Ferguson
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press
62 pages

Rosemary Wells’ narrative of one man’s life growing up in Havana, Madrid, and finally New York City, is redolent with beauty, artistry, home and homesickness, stability and change. The imaginative, poignant way this young boy copes with an abrupt move to the United States as his family flees the Castro regime, inspires both endurance and empathy.

I fell in love with this true story and its rich illustrations. A superb choice to read aloud as well. Enjoy it, and then if you live in Minneapolis, go out for a fine Cuban breakfast at Victor’s 1959 Cafe. Yum.

The No 1 Car Spotter and The No 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird — by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell
first published in Great Britain; published in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012 by Kane Miller
110 and 94 pages

Written by the same phenomenal author as the Anna Hibiscus stories, these delightful, lively tales follow a young ingenious boy, his family, his friendships, life’s adventures, ups and downs, in his Nigerian village. Crammed with local flavor, resourcefulness, community and life! Funky, spirited illustration work brings it even more pep. More sequels are available.

The Pai-Pai Pig, written by Joy Anderson, illustrated by Jay Yang
published in 1967  by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
48 pages

Here’s an out-of-print title that has retained its appeal. The story is set in Taiwan in the late 1950s. It was written by an American woman who lived there for a number of years and illustrated by a Taiwanese artist in evocative black ink drawings.

Pai-pai is the enormously festive celebration of Buddha’s birthday and the rich cultural detail here easily transports us to another culture. Although Taiwan itself has certainly changed, the chance to appreciate and delight in others’ ways of life is evergreen. A winning story if you’re able to find it at a large library as I did.

Candle Tales, written by Julia Cunningham, illustrated by Evaline Ness
published in 1964 by Random House
60 pages

Here’s another vintage story that’s aged surprisingly well. A small band of animals — squirrel, pig, dog, cat, mouse, and gull — note that crotchety Mr. Minikin owns hundreds of jolly birthday candles yet seems to be in need of a party. The six of them set about earning the candles for the surprise they’re concocting by telling stories. Original stories, all set in verse.

As the storytelling proceeds, a lovely warmth and camaraderie settles over Mr. Minikin and his household. Surprisingly modern rhythms and internal rhyming in the animals’ story-poems read almost like slam poetry in places. It’s a cheerful, funny, warmhearted read for those of you who can find a copy.

Starring Grace, written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
published in 2000 by Puffin Books
95 pages

Grace is an imaginative, warmhearted, honest girl whom some of you may have met in a couple of beloved picture books. This is the first of several chapter books starring Grace.  It’s crammed with creative play, respectful relationships, enthusiasm for life — what’s not to love about Grace?  Full page graphite drawings are sprinkled into the text.

Family Reminders, written by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by John Shelley
published in 2009 by Charlesbridge
101 pages

Don’t judge this one by its cover, please. Inside is an absorbing story set in the gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado back in the 1890s. When Mary McHugh’s father is injured

in a mine accident, the family’s prospects are grim and the mood in their once-merry household just as depressing. Mary’s resolve to help her family through this tough time and the serendipitous way she discovers a new means for her father to flourish are heartening and will resonate with many children.

John Shelley’s interior illustrations are vigorous and arresting.

Clancy’s Cabin, written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Barbara Steadman
first published in 1975; first U.S. edition 1995 by The Overlook Press
95 pages

I’m hoping to introduce you to Margaret Mahy, so this is the first of two stories by her in today’s list. This one’s an old-fashioned adventure with a pinch of Famous Five flavor, set in Mahy’s homeland, New Zealand. Siblings spending a summer holiday on their own in an old cabin on Clancy’s farm — what kid would not hanker after that? Introduce a hidden treasure and we’re off on a zesty journey! Great for boys or girls, and a happy read-aloud as well.

Lola Levine Is Not Mean, written by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company
88 pages

Lola Levine is a great multi-cultural character with a Jewish father and a Latino-Catholic mom. She’s a sporty gal who loves to play soccer, gets along best with boys, struggles to fit in with the 2nd-grade girls, loves to write, and is certainly NOT mean. This is the first in a series starring a girl I’d love to know.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!, written by Steve Voake, illustrated by Jessica Meserve
first published in the UK; first US edition 2008 by Candlewick
98 pages

A treat of a story incorporating magical-realism. Daisy Dawson is a tender-hearted animal-lover. One day, with the swish of a butterfly’s wings, she’s also able to understand and talk to animals! This sweeps her into all manner of happy, helpful intrigues with everyone from ants to dogs. Absolutely charming. Several sequels are available.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
first published in 1985; this edition by Puffin Books in 1998
79 pages

Roald Dahl’s riotous absurdity reigns in this short tale of one small boy dreaming of owning a sweet-shop to end all sweet-shops, and the spectacular Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company who are about to make their fortunes off of the 677 windows of Hampshire House. It gets crazier than you can imagine. Illustrated in full careening glory by Quentin Blake. A couple of “damnations” and “By Gad’s!” are included, courtesy of the excitable old Duke, for those who want to know. Fantastic fun, liberally sprinkled with Glumptious Globgobblers and other challenging vocabulary.

Tingleberries, Tuckertubs, and Telephones, written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Robert Staermose
published in 1995 by Viking
96 pages

Speaking of riotous ridiculousness — Margaret Mahy was a genius at concocting cockamamie stories! This gem stars Saracen Hobday, a lad so shy he feels like “a limp lettuce leaf in the great salad of life.” And his bold as brass granny who hasn’t exactly fully retired from the detective business. And a wicked pirate named Grudge-Gallows. And don’t forget those tingleberries and tuckertubs. Immensely diverting! With boisterous ink drawings. If you don’t know Mahy, this is your golden opportunity to discover her. Such a snappy read-aloud!

Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep, written by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
text first published in 1937; illustrations copyright 2000; this edition published in 2017 by Candlewick
96 pages

Pure joy! This classic fairy story by one of the masters of children’s literature is gorgeously packaged with airy, spritely illustrations by Charlotte Voake on lovely, creamy paper, and bound in a charming size. Perfect.

It’s the story of little Elsie Piddock who can skip rope as never so! In fact, she’s a born skipper. So much so that Andy Spandy, the fairy ruler, invites her for magical skipping lessons by the light of the new moon atop Mount Caburn. What’s accomplished by Elsie by means of her pluck and jumping rope — well you just have to read it to believe it. A marvelous David-and-Goliath tale, spun like sugar candy. Lengthy with some challenging dialect. A fine read-aloud.

Marzipan Day on Bridget Lane, written by Sylvia Cassedy, illustrated by Margot Tomes
published in 1967 by Doubleday and Company
62 pages

Marzipan Annie lives on Bridget Lane, “the narrowest lane in all of England” and there she whips up the most wonderful marzipan. “Marzipan gold as the beak of a daw, marzipan pink as the nose of a mouse, marzipan green as the eye of a cat, marzipan white as the throat of a goose.” Her tiny home overflows with confections so fine, they’re fit only for a king.

But does the king ever visit Bridget Lane? No, he does not. Marzipan Annie’s friends — although not royalty — would be happy to indulge themselves on her candies. The warmhearted solution to all of this will leave you cheering.

This delightful story, illustrated by the amazing Margot Tomes, really deserves to be brought back into print. I wish it were more accessible to you all, but perhaps a few of you will score and find a copy.  Challenging vocabulary.

Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight, written by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, illustrated by Elise Gravel
published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
98 pages

Science-fiction/fantasy is such a welcome genre in early chapter books. Archie’s dad drives a taxi — through outer space! On Archie’s first ride-along, adventures spring up at every turn! New planets! Alien bad-guys! Undercover cats! A rollicking read with a number of sequels.

Lulu and the Hamster in the Night, written by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
published in 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company
97 pages

The Lulu books are some of my top-favorite early chapter books. I’ve reviewed a couple of these before but want to draw your attention to them again. Lulu is a dear, warm-hearted, animal-loving gal whose good intentions keep landing her in chaotic situations! Funny and tender, with a diverse cast of characters. I love Lulu!

Sprout Street Neighbors: A New Arrival, written and illustrated by Anna Alter
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
110 pages

As you see, I cheated on this page count. It’s definitely over 100 pages. However — the Sprout Street stories fit perfectly with these early chapter books. Their trim size and plentiful illustrations make the pages nicely accessible. Charming stories about a plucky group of friends who solve their problems with affection and aplomb. Love them! This is the second volume. I reviewed the first one here.

The Happy Orpheline, written by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams
published in 1957 by Harper & Row
96 pages

The stories of the Orphelines in France begin here, not with 12 little girls in two straight lines, but with 20 little girls all happy as can be to belong to one another, to be one great family along with their caretakers, Madame Flattot and Genevieve. An outing to the pet cemetery to see the regal headstone of Zezette, a beloved former pet, results in one child getting lost, then meeting a wacky woman who thinks herself the Queen of France. She’ll careen along on a hair-raising moped ride and let dozens of dogs loose in the market before finally, joyfully being reunited with all those happy orphelines.

It’s quite a tale! My girls loved this when they were young. There are several sequels. Garth Williams’ lively line drawings decorate the pages magnificently. Some French words and place names will challenge young readers.

Sable, written by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Marcia Sewall
published in 1994 by Henry Holt and Company
81 pages

Karen Hesse is a brilliant writer and this short book shines with her superb craftsmanship. A tender tale of Tate and her loyal love for the stray dog, Sable, this one will touch the heart of animal-lovers. My daughter, Ingrid, would have read it a dozen times when she was small if I’d known about it.

A Picture for Marc, written by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
published in 2007 by Random House
98 pages

A brilliant, fictionalized biography of Marc Chagall, this short book is rich with insights into the meaning and value of art. Think of it as My Name is Asher Lev for elementary children. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Hand it to children who don’t need zip-zow action, especially those with artistic souls.

Rickshaw Girl, written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2007 by Charlesbridge
79 pages + glossary

Mitali Perkins is a Kolkata-born author who writes wonderful multicultural titles for children. This is the story of Naima who longs to help her family economically but is hindered by her gender. Inspirational and packed with rich cultural details. Children will need to make use of the illustrated glossary to understand some Bangla words. Graphite drawings help immensely in picturing the setting.

Belling the Tiger; The Great Rebellion; Siri the Conquistador — written by Mary Stolz, illustrated by Beni Montresor
published in 1961 and 1963 by Harper & Brothers
64, 63, and 51 pages

Mary Stolz won a Newbery Honor in 1962 for the first title in this adventurous series. Asa and Rambo, two plucky mice, are originally charged with belling Siri the cat. Three books later, they’ve tamed a tiger, sailed the seas, led a rebellion against an overbearing chief mouse, and faced down their fear of a dog named Maximilian.

These vintage books are illustrated by the fabulous Beni Montresor, but are out of print. Vocabulary and syntax are more challenging than most contemporary titles for this age group. Find them for an advanced younger reader.

A Case in Any Case, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee, translated by Julia Marshall
published in Sweden 2016; first English edition 2017 by Gecko Press
104 pages

This is the third book in a delightful series coming out of Sweden.  I’ve reviewed the first one here. Detective Gordon, a lovable toad with a sizable sweet tooth, has taken a break from police work, leaving his office and Official Stamp to young Buffy, his side-kick, a mouse the size of a cinnamon bun. But when a new case heats up, Detective Gordon just cannot stay off the job. Magnificent personalities, clever storylines, and the fabulous Gitte Spee’s illustration work. Smallish print makes this one a lengthy read.

Basil of Baker Street, written by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone
first published in 1958; this edition 2016 by Aladdin
88 pages

A classic riff on Sherlock Holmes featuring the super-sleuthing mouse, Basil, and his trusty sidekick, Dr. David Q. Dawson. With the huge popularity of all things Sherlockian just now, it’s a great time to introduce kids to this ingenuous detective. Challenging vocabulary, some use of dialect, lovely period, stylized narrative, and Galdone’s fabulous drawings all make this a gem for young, advanced readers. There are several sequels.

House of Dolls, written by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2010 by Harper
61 pages

Despite its recent publication date, this book exudes an antiquated, sophisticated tone in its storytelling, pristine illustrations, and typography. It’s a very pretty book, and its fable-like message of love, loyalty, loneliness, and belonging is teased out beautifully as well. Challenging vocabulary and susbstance. A great choice for precocious readers, with a heavily-feminine feel.

Toys Go Out, written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2006 by Schwartz & Wade
117 pages

Despite its page count, I couldn’t resist including this marvelous, inventive, warm, funny tale of “a knowledgeable stingray, a toughy little buffalo, and someone called Plastic.” If you haven’t met this little crew yet, you ought to. It’s a bit like reading a Pixar movie.

The Better Brown Stories, written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Fritz Wegner
published in 1995 by Viking
97 pages

The topsy-turvy plot in this short novel involves a hulking mechanical dog, maniacal milkman, mysterious kidnappers, a good dog named Timmy, free money, a harassed writer, and endless discombobulation. Intrigued?

The entire, comedic story is a piece of metafiction in which the characters, variously bored, upset, and forgotten by their author, literally rap on his door demanding alterations to the narrative. Which they receive and which never seem to turn out exactly as desired.

It’s a lengthy book, sprinkled with clever line drawings, demanding the ability to follow a convoluted plot and manage lots of Britishisms, but for advanced young readers it’s great fun. Literary references ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the Famous Five to Raymond Briggs’ Snowman are woven subtly into the story.

The Leopard Boy, written by Julia Johnson, illustrated by Marisa Lewis
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
87 pages

Looking for something with international flavor? This suspenseful story, set in Oman, will fill the bill. With its environmental theme, dicey danger, and unusual setting, it’s a great choice for slightly older readers. Very lightly illustrated.

The Marzipan Pig, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published originally in 1986; reissued by The New York Review Children’s Collection
43 pages

Oh so quirky, this series of random events is triggered by the unfortunate fall of a marzipan pig behind the sofa. Sophisticated vocabulary and style, unusual plotting, and small print make this a choice for confident, precocious readers. Quentin Blake’s loose, humorous illustrations and NYRB’s always- gorgeous packaging create great visual appeal.

The Whipping Boy, written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 1986 by Greenwillow Books
89 pages

Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1987, this is an exciting adventure reminscent of Twain’s Prince and the Pauper. The brat of a prince and his whipping boy who bears his every punishment run away from the castle and are ensnared in mistaken identities, surly rogues, medieval fairs, rat-infested sewer systems…phew! A blast for stout readers.

The Dream Stealer, written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 2009 by Greenwillow Books
89 pages

A blockbuster author-and-illustrator team created this exciting tale, festooned with magical realism. Set in a Mexican town, the story is populated with the denizens of nightmares, one very crafty dream-stealer named Zumpango, and an even craftier, stalwart little girl named Susana. Fantastic read for slightly older readers, especially those who’ve tasted and loved Harry Potter or other fantasies.

Salsa Stories, written and illustrated by Lulu Delacre
published in 2000 by Scholastic
75 pages PLUS 20 pages of recipes and an extensive glossary

I love this book, in which a young girl collects fascinating childhood memories from her Latino family members who have grown up in Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru. Each of their stories references a beloved food; authentic recipes for each dish are gathered in the final pages of the book. A lengthy, challenging, and delightful read with an extensive glossary to help out with Spanish terms.

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina
published in 2016 by Candlewick
89 pages

Winner of the 2017 Pura Belpré Award, this book is packed with sunshine, a good dog, a warm family and — it’s set in Bogata, Columbia! I love that!! Juana is another child I’d love to know. She’s quite an optimist except when it comes to learning English — such a tricky language. But her grandfather’s fantastico reward for progress is just the enticement she needs. An unusual format and setting help make this book pure gold. Spanish words are sprinkled in the sophisticated text.

Oranges in No Man’s Land, by Elizabeth Laird, illustrations by Gary Blythe
published in 2006 in the UK; this edition 2008 by Haymarket Books
99 pages

 I tracked this book down through interlibrary loan after I read and admired Laird’s The Fastest Boy in the World, reviewed here. Based on the author’s time living in Beirut during the civil war, this is a poignant story. On display are the traumas, dangers, courage, heartbreak, and generosity of spirit a young girl encounters as she searches for help in a war-torn city. For emotionally-mature readers, it’s a sophisticated but short read.

That’s it. Cream of the crop of what I’ve read since January. But don’t forget to check out the exceptional choices already listed in my Titles Index.

If this post helps you, please share it! I’d love this list to benefit gobs of young readers!

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I have long loved a good troll yarn. I guess it’s the ancient Viking blood in me! These massive, usually dim-witted creatures with any number of heads and toes, pop up everywhere in Norse folklore adding spice to the story and a golden opportunity for the illustrator!

troll-illustration-by-john-bauer

Curiously enough, I’ve noticed a number of troll-festooned graphic novels emerging in the children’s lit world recently. I thought I’d alert you to them in case you share my fondness. Or not. Either way. Plus bring to light some older troll stories you might enjoy.

the-heartless-troll-cover-imageThe Heartless Troll, written and illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
published in 2015 in Norway; first English edition 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books

First up is this graphic novel retelling loosely based on an old Norwegian fairytale called The Troll With No Heart In His Body.

As with many fairy tales it all starts with a king with a bunch of sons — in this case seven — the youngest of which is treated differently than his elder brethren. Prince Fred, the youngest in this household, has to watch his olders vault off on their fine steeds, decked out in resplendent clothes, set to find beautiful brides for themselves. And oh! they promise to fetch him one, too. But of course, an evil troll waylays them and turns them to stone.

the-heartless-troll-interior-oyvind-torseter

Nothing for it but for Prince Fred to set off on an epic quest to free his brothers by destroying the troll’s heart. Problem is, that troll hasn’t got his heart in his body. THAT’s how nasty a fellow he is!

Fred, with the able assistance of a beautiful princess, an elephant, octopus, saxophone and much Bravery, manages everything in the end and he and the princess live happily ever after. Phew!

the-heartless-troll-interior2-oyvind-torseter

Torseter’s rendition is as quirky and casual as it comes with fairy tale elements and contemporary ingredients nestling happily cheek by jowl. A great spot of fun for ages 10 and up.

You can read a more traditional telling of this tale, as well as a number of other Norwegian troll tales in this book:

the-troll-with-no-heart-in-his-body-cover-imageThe Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls, from Norway, retold by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen
published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin

With an author and illustrator who share Norwegian heritage  and make their homes among the exceedingly-trollish rocky landscapes of Minnesota’s North Shore (one of my favorite places on Earth), this collection of nine tales has a lovely authentic air. 96 pages long. It includes the most familiar, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Serious troll-lovers and fans of all things Nordic will enjoy this.

hilda-and-the-stone-forest-cover-imageHilda and the Stone Forest, written and illustrated by Luke Pearson
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

Luke Pearson’s Hilda stories are marvelous, and immensely popular right now. About to come in animated form to Netflix, so they say.

The first book, introducing spunky Hilda, her mom, their pet fox, Twig, and their hauntingly-beautiful, fantasy-Norwegian homeland is, appropriately, Hilda and the Troll. I’ve reviewed it here. It really helps if you read it before launching into one of the later volumes.

hilda-and-the-stone-forest-interior-luke-pearson

In this their fifth adventure, Hilda, Mom, and Twig wind up accidentally whooshed into a mysterious forest occupied by — you guessed it — trolls. So. Many. Trolls. Yikes!

Escape is of the essence, but that is much, much easier said than done.

hilda-and-the-stone-forest-interior2-luke-pearson

Run, clamber, dodge, sneak, and run faster in this breathless, dangerous episode. Sheer delight for a wide age range, about 7 to adult.

bera-the-one-headed-troll-cover-imageBera the One-Headed Troll, written and illustrated by Eric Orchard
pubished in 2016 by FirstSecond

There’s always an individual in every crowd, and Bera is certainly that. Although she’s a troll, she’s a quiet, modest sort, glad to mind her own business and tend her pumpkin patch on a lonely, tiny island. Her boon companion is an owl named Winslowe.

One day Bera hears a raucous, most unpleasant uproar in the cove. Investigating, she’s shocked to see that a human baby has arrived, somehow, and is being most roughly treated by the nasty mer-trolls. Risking their wrath, Bera scoops up that baby and begins an epic adventure to try to return it to wherever it came from.

bera-the-one-headed-troll-interior-eric-orchard

Bera’s journey is plagued by quite a passel of hideous creatures. Goblins! Wolves! A wretched witch! Goons! Thankfully, she is helped along the way by hedgehog wizards, kindly mice, and Nanna the Great.

bera-the-one-headed-troll-interior2-eric-orchard

By turns, Orchard’s tale is uncanny, menacing, warm-hearted, and heroic, just as all good fantasy should be! Great story for ages 8 and up.

in-the-troll-wood-cover-imageIn the Troll Wood, pictures by John Bauer, text by Lennart Rudström; English version by Olive Jones
first published in Sweden; English version 1978 by Methuen Children’s Books Ltd.

John Bauer was a Swedish artist known for his prolific work illustrating legends and fairy tales. He died, tragically, at age 36 in a shipwreck. That was in 1918.

This collection of some of his magnificent  work is sadly out of print but a peek on Amazon shows there are a few floating around for sale.

Just take a look at these paintings:

troll-painting2-by-john-bauer

The text tells little stories inspired by the pictures. It’s quite nicely done, with bits of juicy troll lore and outlandish goings-on. In one, an “ugly old woman with long greenish hair and only one tooth” accosts a young boy, only to fade into a twisted tree stump when he calls her bluff. In another, stubborn Grandpa Troll insists on heading out to steal a cow in wintertime although the hunting hounds are out and about. His tail pays a painful price!

troll-painting-by-john-bauer

My children would have loved this volume when they were quite young, despite the unusual format.  We devoured Norse mythology and troll tales. If you can find a copy, try it with apt listeners ages 3 and up.

a-ride-on-the-red-mares-back-cover-imageA Ride on the Red Mare’s Back, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, paintings by Julie Downing
published in 1992 by Orchard Books

Finally, this picture book holds a delightful fantasy by the renowned Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s the story of a young girl whose brother is stolen by trolls!

With her father undone by despair, and her mother occupied with care of the new baby, it’s up to the girl to find and rescue her brother. She does this with the aide of her little Dalarna horse which magically comes to life in full, snorting, thundering glory!

Up the two of them venture to High House, the cavernous home of dozens and dozens of fiendish trolls where the girl has just one night to put their plan to work before the magic wears off.

a-ride-on-the-red-mares-back-illustration-julie-downing

She’s a brave one! And a clever one! And by day break (which if you know anything about trolls you know is a particularly momentous time) she’s snatched that brother of hers from the heart of troll land.

Paintings replete with ugly trolls, that beautiful red horse, and the cold stillness of a Norwegian winter, help bring this story to life. 48 pages. For brave 5 year olds and up.

I’ve reviewed a couple of other delightful troll stories in the past. My clear favorite is D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, reviewed here.

D'Aulaire's Book of Trolls cover

The D’Aulaire’s have also written and illustrated The Terrible Troll Bird, reviewed here.

the terrible troll-bird cover image

 

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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.

Turkey syrian refugees kurds

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:

i'm new here cover image copy

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

the-butterfly-cover-image

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

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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

in the year of the boar cover

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

ting ting cover image by aileen kamonzeki

Ting Ting

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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

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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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