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Archive for the ‘Newbery Books’ Category

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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The devastation of Harvey is overwhelmingly present both for those on site and those helplessly watching from afar.

That’s not the only bad news that might be greying your spirit these days. Here’s a brief selection of some of my favorite books that swell our hearts with hope.

Each is linked to my original review.

Spirit of Hope

When a young family is forced out of their home, another most surprising place becomes available.

A Chair for My Mother

The classic story of a terrible house fire and the pluck, love, and community that bring about restoration.

Boxes for Katje

An American girl rallies her friends to ship boxes of needed supplies to a devastated community in post-war Holland.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down

A Cameroonian girl hears of the Great Depression in America and raises money to send from her impoverished community.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

One gentle zookeeper falls ill and the dear animals he’s cared for so well return the favor. 

The Friend

An African-American maid acts as true companion, dear friend, and life saver to her small white charge.

The Promise

A broken city and broken soul are transformed by beauty.

The Family Under the Bridge

One of my all-time favorite chapter books, about a homeless young family, a homeless old man, and the power of love.

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Neo-Naziism is not new in America. Yet the Charlottesville rally compelled us as a nation to grapple once again with this reprehensible brand of evil. Certainly to debate our responses to it.

My dad was a young soldier in World War II. He was a flight mechanic, charged with keeping his crew’s plane in top form as they flew paratroopers, gliders, supply missions, Red Cross missions, among the battlefields of Europe. His experiences at D-Day, the jubilation he witnessed as the Allies liberated  Holland and Paris, the horrifying discoveries his crew made as they rescued prisoners of war in the final days of the conflict, shaped him — and me as well as he told me stories as a young child. He and his buddies were so young, risking their lives to defeat this diabolical ideology.

As I looked at the white supremacists’ faces in Charlottesville, mainly privileged young men, brandishing torches, waving Nazi flags, screaming vile insults at Jews and Blacks, the contrast to my honorable dad at the same age was nauseating.

It is incomprehensible to me how one gets to this place. And yet the insidious poison of self-pity and greed takes ghastly shape when ignited by rhetoric into blame, hatred, and oppression of others.

Which leads me to reiterate that we must keep teaching history. There are profound lessons to learn from the wrongs of the past which we allow to grow stale at our peril. Our kids are not too young to fall prey to demagogic messages. 

So I set about finding resources for you all. Reading these books was sobering. I was struck with many parallels to today’s discourses and challenging questions about appropriate responses, courage, and discernment, that would stimulate important, complex conversations with middle graders through adults.

If I were running a book club for middle-graders and up, I would pick one of these titles to read and discuss this fall. Today I’ve included a few discussion questions prompted by these books that could spark lively conversations in your spheres.

Almost none of today’s titles are geared for young children, but you can find a list of exceptional picture books heralding the brave rescuers of WWII in my post: rescuing the innocent…stories from the Holocaust for ages 6-14

Recently I discovered this sorrowful allegory that would also suit ages 7-10:

Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
published in 1989 by The Jewish Publication Society

It takes place in a small forest clearing where one small white rabbit watches her community fall prey, bit by bit, to “Terrible Things.” The story clearly echoes Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous quotation: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Stephen Gammell’s graphite work is powerful. To not anthropomorphize the animals, yet portray their stances and feelings from indifference to snobbishness to cold panic, takes incredible skill. The menace in these pages makes me bump the age range on this slim picture book up to about age 7. It would make a fine introduction to conversations about civil disobedience and standing up for others’ welfare at a young elementary level. 

Next, this book discusses Hitler’s rise to power and specifically what prompted young people to enthusiastically follow him:

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
published in 2005 by Scholastic
157 pages + back matter

It’s a riveting, disquieting account of the Hitler Youth movement, its origins, allure, fierce hold, and final, devastating shame, through in-depth accounts of a number of young people who were a part of it.

Here are some discussion points for this book:

1.)The youth of post-WWI Germany felt disenfranchised and embittered. How did Hitler appeal to them? What kinds of things did he promise them? Are these things inherently bad? When and how did some Hitler Youth recognize that these promises were meant to be fulfilled at a terrible cost? How does this bear on promises you’re given today by politicians, advertisers, friends, etc.? Which promises might be most difficult to resist for you?

2.)What good things came initially through the Hitler Youth program? In what ways do good and bad mix together in current organizations, movements, etc.? What ought we do in those cases?

3.)Millions of Germans were either apathetic or at least did nothing as the Aryan agenda advanced. When Kristallnacht occurred, ordinary Germans saw their Jewish neighbors murdered, beaten, transported, destroyed, and did nothing. Simultaneously, Americans were so worried about immigrants taking away their jobs that they refused entrance to Jewish refugees despite the perils they faced. Why do good people remain apathetic when others are harmed? Where, in what spheres, is this happening today? If you’re honest, how easily are you moved to stand against the oppression of others rather than look out for yourself? How does one increase one’s courage in these circumstances?

4.)Loyalty to Hitler made Hitler Youth either unable or unwilling to see, hear, or believe what he really was. Meanwhile, Hans Scholl declared that “my sole ambition must be to perceive things clearly and calmly.” Loyalty is a good thing. How can we discern when it prevents us from seeing clearly?

5.)Many Germans dismissed stories of atrocities as too horrible to be true. As fake. Instead they clung to the version of reality they wanted to believe. There is a snowballing tendency in the U.S. today to dismiss stories that present ideas, events, issues people dislike, as “fake news.” How did Scholl and his compatriots resist Nazi propaganda? How did they discover the truth? How can we prevent “willed ignorance” in ourselves? What is the long-term impact on our society of the consistent dismissive — “fake news”?

6.)After the war, Eisenhower stated that free speech was one of the most important civil liberties to reintroduce in Germany, and specifically called for a free press. He said “this meant [the press] could — and should — report on all aspects of life in Germany, even if it meant criticizing the government and occupation forces.” Why is free speech so critical in a democratic society? What limits do we currently have on free speech? How do we determine which speech ought to be censured? What does it signify when Pres. Trump routinely attacks the press? Why is a free press essential in a democracy?

There’s gobs more to dig out in this exceptional book. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

In my years teaching modern world history, I often assigned this biography of Hitler by Albert Marrin:

Hitler, by Albert Marrin
republished by Beautiful Feet Books in 2002
249 pages

As always, Marrin’s writing is captivating. His account is thorough and adequately expresses the chilling depravity of Hitler and his impact on the German people, enough to break through the complacency that easily washes over today’s American schoolchildren due to the distance in time and space from these events. Although my students were of course familiar with Hitler, this book shocked them. I recommend it for ages 15 and older.

Another biography that’s quite a bit shorter and formatted with lots of black-and-white photographs, is:

The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, by James Giblin
published originally in 2002; paperback in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
223 pages

The brilliance of this book, besides the fact that it’s so well-written, is its coverage of neo-Naziism in the final chapter, an exceptional resource for carrying the discussion of Hitler beyond past history and into the resurgent movements in America and across Europe today. Ages 13 and up.

The following books recount the courage of those who resisted white supremacy.

If your government, schoolmates, friends, persecute or oppress someone wholly unlike you, what will you do? What will you not do?  What stand will you take? How much are you willing to risk? These questions led thousands of Germans to resist the Nazi government at the cost of their lives. It’s easy to praise them, but their decisions demand a more introspective look. What is our moral duty today? When is protest justified, let alone sabotage, treason, murder? If we praise these individuals, what does that mean for our own lives?

German youth hit these issues head on at tremendously young ages. The following exceptional books raise all kinds of important, thorny questions for you and readers ages 13 and up.

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler, by Russell Freedman
published in 2016 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
87 pages

I’ve reviewed this exceptional, award-winning book previously and highly recommend it again. Hans and Sophie Scholl were teenagers when they and others began clandestinely opposing Hitler, eventually forming the secret White Rose resistance movement which cost them their lives. A riveting read for ages 14 and up.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knut Pedersen and the Churchill Club, by Phillip M. Hoose
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus and Giroux
165 pages

This story of a group of Danish schoolboys who resisted the Nazi occupational forces is flabbergasting. Their youthful audacity bore tremendous fruit, yet came at enormous cost. My full review of this incredible, award-winning account is here. Ages 14 and up.

The Plot to Kill  Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero, by Patricia McCormick
published in 2016 by Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins
143 pages + back matter

There are a number of biographies of Bonhoeffer. This one is accessible to kids as young as 12, yet grapples with questions of civil disobedience and religious faith with incisive clarity.

It was Bonhoeffer’s deep faith that inspired his activism. He argued fervently that it was the responsibility of the Church to assist victims of governmental wrongdoing, no matter their faith. As the Nazi program accelerated, his commitment to pacifism was rocked to its core, leading him to exonerate himself and others in their plot to assassinate Hitler. This is stupefying, when you really think about it.

Here are just a few questions that arise from this biography:

1. What does it look like — today — to walk in Bonhoeffer’s footsteps? Christians in particular have been inspired by Bonhoeffer’s moral courage and appeal to true community. What of his staggering commitment to civil disobedience? What are the implications of that for American Christians? For you? How does our society view Christians who neglect to stand up for justice?

2. Bonhoeffer was a white, Protestant, pastor, yet his faith was ignited by African American churches and he sought out the counsel of Ghandi as he contemplated resisting the Nazi government. How much do adherents of a particular faith typically seek growth and understanding from those unlike them or outside of that faith?  Is Bonhoeffer’s pathway here an important one to follow? How exactly would one do that?

3. Author McCormick argues that “while Bonhoeffer made a moral plea to [his fellow] clergy, Hitler appealed to their desire for power. He told church leaders that he would restore the moral order that Germany was lacking. He also suggested that he would restore them to a place of political influence that they had lost…He announced that his government would make Christianity ‘the basis of our collective morality.'” Bonhoeffer was lonely in his refusal to succumb to these promises. Do these sound bytes sound familiar? Why would a pastor not want what Hitler promised? What should be the stance of the Church in terms of seeking political power? Is the “restoration of morality” something that can be done through governmental power?

Many more profound, pertinent questions are raised particularly for those of faith through this well-written biography.

An Addendum: The extraordinarily talented John Hendrix will have an illustrated biography of Bonhoeffer out in Spring 2018, published by Abrams Kids. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the pages.

 

I cannot wait to read and share this book!

If this post is helpful, please share it on social media, with your book club, teaching cohorts, homeschool co-ops. Let’s help one another and our kids live more examined, thoughtful lives with the help of great books like these.

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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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Over the last 5 months, I have been reading stacks upon stacks of short chapter books.

Thousands of pages later, I am ready to bring you a handy list, although what I arrived at is slightly different than where I thought I was going at the start.

My goal to begin with was to hunt down terrific chapter books for fledgling readers who have graduated from leveled easy readers but aren’t quite ready for just any ol’ chapter book. These folks need books that aren’t too daunting.

I didn’t look for books quite this small.

I made an arbitrary rule for myself in order to cut down the enormous number of options I might read: The book had to be under 100 pages. Thus I merrily set out. I discovered a couple of things, though, along the way.

One isn’t really a new discovery: I am not fond of rules.

Therefore I kept breaking my 100 page rule, fudging just a teensy bit here and a teensy bit there. All in all, though, the rule was very beneficial for me as it kept me from reading every single book that screamed at me to check it out. I really, really tried to turn a cold shoulder to the ones over 100 pages!

Me, coming home from the library.

The other thing was — okay this wasn’t really a new discovery either — that 100 page books span the gamut of difficulty, from illustration-heavy, text-minimal, zoopy stories to texts full of challenging vocabulary, complex plots, and almost no illustrations. Short chapter books are not just for budding readers.

Here, then, is my revised list of all the kinds of people that my 100-page-book list is for:

•new graduates of  leveled readers, to be sure

•older readers who struggle with reading or simply aren’t enthused about reading; short is less intimidating

•young-but-advanced readers who may be only 5 but are tearing through books — what can you hand them next?

•readers perfectly capable of tackling the entire Harry Potter series who might want something utterly different to zip through in an hour

•parents/caregivers looking for a short read-aloud

•Kindle-less readers who need something lightweight to tuck in a travel satchel

•children assigned to read x number of pages over summer vacation looking for ideas

In other words, a lot of readers might benefit from short chapter books of varied difficulty, but it’s tough to find them because one can’t search for books by length. The newer series are a cinch to spot, but older or stand-alone titles are tricky to find.

I dug through stacks of out-of-print books and read bundles of brand new books, searching for what I thought were the very best reads. I hunted for variety — animal stories, fantasy, diverse cultures, history, humor. There are still so many excellent titles out there that I missed but I have other reading journeys I’d like to go on so I’m ending this particular voyage and posting the best of what I’ve found tomorrow.

There are lots of easy chapter books already on my blog including some of my very favorite ones. Those are listed with links to their reviews in my Title index so do check them out.

I hope you’ll find something or a lot of things  that are just the right fit for the readers in your life. If you share this post with others, it will make my efforts all the more worthwhile, so please do!

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Storytelling is an old craft. Old as humankind.

prehistoric cave art, ennedi plateau, chad

While countless stories have been lost, shrouded in time, we do know some mighty ancient tales that, having been passed down orally for centuries, were written down and later recovered.  It’s mind-boggling, really, to think of the long journey these stories have taken from their original telling to our comfortable, 21st century lives.

13th century Islamic illustration

I started collecting some of them for a blog post and rapidly ran into trouble as it was so hard to resist researching and reading endless numbers of ancient tales from many cultures. In a saner moment I realized I did not really have time to do all of that! So today I’ve got just a few stories coming from the Mesopotamian and Minoan cultures. I hope they entice you to unearth other gems from elsewhere around the globe.

Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War, told by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Jane Ray
published in 2006 by Candlewick Press
73 pages

One of the oldest written stories in the world is this 5000-year-old tale from Ancient Sumer, recorded millennia ago in cuneiform on clay tablets which were discovered and finally deciphered in the 1970s. What an exciting mystery to be part of solving!

Lugalbanda was a prince who eventually became king of the ancient city of Uruk, and father to the hero of another of today’s stories, Gilgamesh.

When his father goes to war for the glory of his kingdom, Lugalbanda, though young and weak, joins the throng of soldiers. His frailty overwhelms him, though, and he is left alone to live or die at the will of the gods. Lugalbanda’s ensuing adventures, recovery, and cunning dealmaking with the monstrous Anzu bird, equip him to play the part of the unlikely hero in this marvelous, eminently readable account.

Jane Ray’s masterful, jewel-like illustration work adds elegance and vitality to every page. Gorgeous! Notes on the story provide fascinating information on Sumer, the archaeological discoveries that brought this civilization to light, and the ancient poems which Henderson has rendered into prose for us. Fantastic, for ages 6-7 and up.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by David Parkins
published in 2003 in the U.S. by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers and the UK by Oxford University Press
95 pages

Another of the oldest of stories is the incredible Epic of Gilgamesh, carved onto stone tablets which “over thousands of years, were smashed into thousands of shards,” then pieced painstakingly together by scholars.

Geraldine McCaughrean’s exceptional retelling of it makes this accessible to readers and listeners ages about 9 and up. We read this aloud when my kids were young. It is riveting stuff, I am telling you!

Immensely strong, godlike in fact, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk was both “a dream and a nightmare” for his people. His great friend, Enkidu, a half-wild, beast of a man, joins him in defeating monstrous Huwawa –Evil Guardian of the Forest — as well as the Bull of Heaven, thus angering the gods. The gods’ ensuing punishment — Enkidu’s death — strikes Gilgamesh to his core, driving him on a quest to discover the meaning of existence, to grapple with sorrow and the reality of mortality.

Heady, rich material, narrated with clarity, flair, and respect. Parkins’ powerful, atmospheric illustrations convey emotion, ancient origins, and the mythical qualities of its characters. This is a long, much more challenging story than Lugalbanda.

The Winged Girl of Knossos, written and illustrated by Erick Berry
originally published in 1933; reissued by Paul Dry Books in 2017
218 pages
on shelves June 13, 2017

The Minoan culture based on Crete preceded the Ancient Greek civilization that is better known to most of us. Mythical King Minos of Knossos would fit into an era around 1700 BC I believe. Please, ancient scholars, correct me if I’m wrong!

In 1934, Erick Berry won a Newbery Honor for his novel mixing the stories of Theseus and the Minotaur, and the inventor Daedalus’ audacious winged-flight, into one exciting adventure. Astonishingly for the time in which it was written, Erick Berry changed the gender of the novel’s hero and Daedalus’ co-conspirator– rather than Icarus, Daedalus’ child is a girl named Inas. The book fell out of print for decades, but is now being reissued thanks to Paul Dry Books.

Inas is an adventurer from top to toe. A sponge diver. A bull-vaulter. A frequent-flyer, experimenting with her father’s massive, newfangled wings as she leaps from cliffs to glide out over the sparkling Aegean Sea. She’s also best friends with King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne.

Our heroine falls into danger from two sides — her father’s reckless experiments raise the hackles of superstitious Minoans, and her assistance to Ariadne in freeing the handsome Greek, Theseus, means she’s in big trouble at the palace as well. Hair-raising moments aplenty move this story along. Gobs of rich detail about the Minoan world are woven in as well.

Despite the girl-power features to this novel, there are some less-than-contemporary moments, but honestly, for its age it reads very well today. I love when these excellent, long-forgotten Newbery Honor books become available. This would make a dandy choice for voracious readers ages 9 and up.

The Hero and the Minotaur: The Fantastic Adventures of Theseus, retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd
published in 2005 by Dutton Children’s Books

For a much more traditional, picture-book-length telling of the Theseus myths, check out this beautiful selection by Robert Byrd. 

His stunning illustrations sparkle from the pages like gems on a necklace as we read of Theseus’ colorful encounters with the strongman Cercyon, Sinis the pine-bender, a brute of an ogre named Sciron, and of course, King Minos’ maze and Minotaur. Icarus makes his ill-fated flight, Ariadne’s crown becomes a constellation, and Theseus forgets about those black sails causing tragedy to cap his tremendous successes.

These myths have stood the test of time for a reason — they are fabulous! Treat your kids, ages 5 and up, to these larger-than-life stories for the ages.

Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology, retold and illustrated by Robert Byrd
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers
48 pages

Ah, Robert Byrd! He creates such magnificent nonfiction for young readers — and older ones like me, too! Here he presents the journeys of Jason in vivid prose and oodles of detailed, stunning illustrations.

In his introduction, Byrd describes Jason’s tale as “full of wonders: not only a flying sheep, but also fire-breathing bulls, a many-headed monster, a serpent who never sleeps, and men turned into beasts. Greedy kings hungry for power and riches, murderous queens, scheming magicians, and a wondrous ship to brave the dangers of the high seas.” Well! Need I say more? I think not. Irresistible.

From his superb maps decorating the endpapers, to the cameos of famous Argonauts, through epic battles with harpies and those warriors sprouting up from the soil — Byrd’s colorful, imaginative, impeccable illustrations pull us into this world at every turn of the page. Sidebars highlight the various gods who are mentioned in the briefly-narrated stages of the quest.

If you want your kids to fall in love with Greek mythology, do not pass go, do not collect $200…just get this book. Ages 5 and up.

 

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Today’s Women’s History Month post highlights motherhood, one of the most challenging, exhausting, all-encompassing responsibilities on the planet, with few accolades and really lousy hours but so much possibility.

Does this qualify as false advertising?!

Often moms in children’s literature are background characters, yet even there we notice some flashes of genius. For instance, there’s Ferdinand the bull’s mother,

who initially worries about her son sitting quietly just smelling the flowers, but “because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” Way to go, mom. Individuality starts here.

I adore the moms in several of Jonathan Bean’s stories — At Night and Big Snow — who empathetically care for their children while giving them space and freedom to explore and dream and be.

One of my favorite storybook moms is Alfie’s mother, whose house is always unapologetically mussy, whose hair has not seen a salon recently, whose breakfast table is a jumble of milk splotches, egg smears, and the odd sock. Hers is a happy, creative household and she makes no pretense of keeping it all completely under control. Plus, she gets her kids out of doors a LOT!

The women in the following books (gleaned from my archives) are not famous for their accomplishments, yet live quietly heroic lives, nurturing small human beings with love, wisdom, courage, creativity, patience, cunning, fortitude, conviction, selflessness, empathy, resilience, comfort, contentment, and the list goes on.

Represented here are tired mothers, grandmothers, single moms, veiled moms, nannies, adoptive mothers, refugee mothers, harassed mothers, black, white, latino and native mothers, camping moms, berry-picking grandmas, hospitable mothers…

To all of you coping with the demands of motherhood, perhaps quailing before the superhero women featured in most Women’s History Month posts — hats off to you and the epic job you do every day!

Tromping around outdoors moms…

Alfie Weather

Oh so tired moms…

Are You Awake?

taking time to listen grandmas…

The Baby on the Way

uber clever moms…

Bread and Jam for Frances

hardworking single moms…

A Chair for My Mother

deeply religious moms…

Deep in the Sahara

profoundly there-for-you nannies…

The Friend

warmhearted grandmas…

Grandma’s House

bighearted adoptive moms…

Hattie Peck

magically creating spring moms…

How Mama Brought the Spring

incredibly brave refugee moms…

The Journey

wise in life grandmas…

Last Stop on Market Street

harassed but not quitting moms…

Leave Me Alone!

ordinarily awesome moms…

My Mom

spunky world-opening grandmas…

Nana in the City

lively ditch the rules grandmas…

Peeny Butter Fudge

carrying you with me moms…

A Ride on Mother’s Back

creative, content grandmas…

Sunday Shopping

canoeing, camping moms…

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe

berry-picking grandmas…

Wild Berries

hospitable, merciful moms…

A Year of Borrowed Men

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