Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

Several weeks ago I came across an article on the BBC highlighting a new book of photography by Steve McCurry. The theme of McCurry’s project, displayed in this stunning book, is reading. Readers, to be more precise.

I immediately requested it through my library and have thoroughly enjoyed meandering through it.


On Reading, by Steve McCurry
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press

Even if you don’t know the name Steve McCurry, you know his photography. One of National Geographic’s most heralded photographers, McCurry’s most famous shot is probably Afghan Girl, taken in 1984.


On Reading is the result of his personal interest in capturing the faces, postures, environments of people around the world caught up in the act of reading. For forty years as he’s globe-trotted, he’s had his eye out for these images.


Paul Theroux, in his foreword, comments that “readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment…It seems to me that there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”


Indeed, McCurry wondrously captures the focused absorption of readers old and young, rich and poor, from widely disparate cultures in this collection. It is gorgeous, immensely satisfying, and heartening.


McCurry himself was inspired by the earlier work of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész who spent over 50 years observing and photographing readers. His work was likewise published in a book entitled On Reading, published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers. I checked that one out from my library, too!


The compelling, black-and-white photographs in this small book span the years 1915-1970. About half of them are from the 1960’s and most were shot in New York City and Paris.

The differences in the worlds and perspectives of these two books, despite their common theme, is remarkable. The work of Kertész has a much more spur of the moment, snapshot sense, whereas McCurry’s are bold, immersive, with subjects generally much closer to us.

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

I love seeing the small dramas taking place on all these tiny stages in the world. On a particular day now long gone, an anonymous person was caught up in reading during one unscheduled moment, now frozen in time for us to contemplate.


Esztergam, Hungary, 1915

McCurry and Kertész both saw so much in this ordinary, transportive, monumental act. I love the way photographers help me see, and particularly how these two have helped me see the magic of reading woven through time and across cultures.

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

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

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

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

Astrid Lindgren Foto: Jacob Forsell Kod: 14

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

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

Christmas in Noisy Village

Christmas in Noisy Village

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

Finnish victory, WWII

Finnish victory, WWII

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

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

Astrid's war diary

Astrid’s war diary

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Astrid Lindgren’s War Diaries 1939-1945

Pippi Longstocking


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February is Black History Month and I’m so happy to pass on these five excellent titles. The more we seek to understand others, the more we are enriched and the more harmonious and peaceful society can become. This is what we all want! 

I love the breadth of contributions to society and our common history these stories introduce and represent. Although they are all picture books, today’s set seems best for ages 7 and up. You can find lots more Black History titles including those well-suited for younger readers, in my Subject Index.

a-poem-for-peter-cover-imageA Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
published in 2016 by Viking

I’ve always felt that The Snowy Day is one of the truly perfect picture books out there. Its art, understanding of the child, genius economy of words, continue to stand the test of time. With all the absolutely stunning work that’s been published since this book came out in 1962 — still, it’s at the top of my list of what to give a new baby upon entrance into our world.


And those aren’t the only elements that make Ezra Jack Keats’ book such a gem. It was unheard of at that time for a black child to be the main character of a story. Having his sweet brown face featured on the book’s cover was an important step forward in children’s literature and our society.

Read this lilting, expressionist, free-verse story to learn all about Keats and how his particular life led him to create that “brown-sugar boy” named Peter, to place an urban world in our hands and help us embrace the formerly-invisible . The illustration work in this book, incorporating Keats’ distinctive vibe and media, is fabulous.


This is a picture book best appreciated by those who have met Keats’ work. I’d hand it to kids ages 8 and up. Adults — it’s for you, too.

the-book-itch-cover-imageThe Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2015 by Carolrhoda Books

Lewis Henri Michaux was a feisty, independent-minded soul from the start, and he had something in common with me, and probably with you: He loved books.

All of which led him on a winding pathway to create something sadly unusual: a bookstore in Harlem. Michaux had a hard go of it. He was turned down for a loan on the premise that “Black people don’t read.” Good thing Michaux had the moxie to discard such ignorance and push ahead.


Michaux was full of pithy advice for all: “Knowledge is Power. You need it every hour. Read a book!” And his shop — the National Memorial African Bookstore —  was full of books, conversation, ideas, and famous folk. Muhammad Ali. Langston Hughes. Malcolm X.


This biography, crackling with the same grit and gumption as Michaux, introduces readers ages 8 and up to a man who believed in the intellect of his fellow African Americans and challenged them to make their mark through knowledge and independent thinking. Christie’s robust, vigorous artwork easily bears the weight of his rugged subject.

jazz-day-cover-imageJazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, written by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

In 1958, a fellow named Art Kane came up with a wild scheme to gather as many jazz greats as he could and take their picture.

The magazine he worked for was doing a jazz issue. It seemed like the perfect place for that kind of historic photo. But getting in touch with all these folks, finding a date when they could join up, all in the days before e-invitations — that was a challenge. Happily for Kane, and for us, a river of jazz musicians flowed into Harlem one hot summer day and cooperated — mostly — with the photo session.

Click. A moment, and an entire movement, preserved.


Roxane Orgill has ingenuously recreated the unfolding action from Kane’s initial idea to the arrival on the newsstands of a magazine with a crisp photo of 57 musicians: black and white; male and female. Plus 12 little neighborhood boys who just happened to be there, too.


She’s done this through a series of poems from the perspectives of a number of folks involved. Massive, delightful, effervescent personalities exude from her pieces which are accompanied by gorgeous, stylish portraits by artist Francis Vallejo. I love his work!

This is an outstanding picture book that older children and adults will thoroughly enjoy. Ages 8 through adult.

how-to-build-a-museum-cover-imageHow to Build a Museum, by Tonya Bolden
published in 2016 by Viking and Smithsonian

Are you one of the lucky ones who has had a chance to visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? I understand its popularity right now makes that a tricky ticket to get ahold of.

Historian Tonya Bolden is here to tell us how this museum came about and I’m telling you — it will whet your appetite to go!


If you can believe it, this is a 100-year-long dream-come-true. A vision that began in 1915 and persevered through lots of halts and left turns and snags until finally, on September 24, 2016, the museum was open for visitors.

Learn the history of this long process and go treasure hunting to find all manner of items. A beautiful gown designed by Ann Lowe and a plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Satchmo’s trumpet and Michael Jackson’s fedora. Gabby Douglas’s leotard and a couple of Woolworth’s lunch-counter stools from Greensboro. Posters. Photos. Medals. Harriet Tubman’s hymnal.


Illustrated with photographs. If you are making a trip to D.C. and hope to visit the museum, you should definitely read this first. Ages 8 to adult.

let-it-shine-cover-imageLet It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Finally, a collection of bite-sized biographies of some persevering, courageous women. Chosen after long hours of reading, research, and conversation, these 10 women represent hundreds of others who have set aside their own comfort and security, who have gone out on a limb, to fight for freedom and equality.


In her preface, Pinkney discusses the breadth of freedoms she considered as she chose her subjects. What is striking is how basic these freedoms really are. Freedom to choose housing. Freedom to ride public transportation. I hope that by reading Black History, we can put to rest the simplistic notion that “all you have to do in America is work hard to change your future.” No, the cards have been stacked against certain populations. The opportunities have been made unavailable to some and granted to others. Women and men and children have been beaten and killed for trying to improve their lot in life.


In about five pages each, Pinkney tells the compelling stories of both famous and lesser-known women: Sojourner Truth, Biddy Mason, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Josephine Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm.

Each bio is accompanied by one full-page and one small-sized painting, bursting with vibrancy and strength. These accounts make great additions to anyone’s grasp of American history. Ages 8 and up.

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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:


Anne Frank


Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

irena's jars of secrets cover image

Irena’s Jars of Secrets


The Butterfly


Always Remember Me


Passage to Freedom




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


The Lion and the Unicorn

odette's secrets cover image

Odette’s Secrets

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


We Came to America

their great gift cover image

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


The Journey

goodbye 382 shin dang dong cover image

Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong

grandfather's journey cover

Grandfather’s Journey

the matchbox diary cover image

The Matchbox Diary

my father's boat

My Father’s Boat

my name is sangoel cover image

My Name is Sangoel

the thanksgiving door cover image

The Thanksgiving Door

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

the turtle of oman cover image

The Turtle of Oman

it ain't so awful falafel cover image

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel


A Long Pitch Home

child soldier cover image

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War

dreams of freedom cover image

Dreams of Freedom

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




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atlas-of-animal-adventure-cover-imageAtlas of Animal Adventures, written by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions

Here’s another gorgeous atlas from Wide Eyed. What a shelf full of fabulous books they’ve given us!

Explore the seven continents, learning about the amazing wildlife that lives in various locations — their behaviors, migrations, habitats, uniquenesses — all while feasting on Lucy Letherland’s phenomenal illustration work.


This oversized book is cover to cover food for curious minds. From the spectacular annual migration of the wildebeest in Kenya to the exotic courtship ritual of decorative homebuilding carried on by bowerbirds in New Guinea and Australia; from the collective might of leaf-cutter ants in the Bolivian rain forest to that mysterious unicorn of the Arctic waters, the narwhal, whose spiral horn can grow up to 9 feet long.


These scenes are full of interesting tidbits of information. Maps along the way set the animals in their proper locales. And two pages of illustration details to try to spot help turn the book into an I Spy game. Absolutely top-notch, for ages 4 through much older.

animals-by-the-numbers-cover-imageAnimals by the Numbers:A Book of Animal Infographics, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Steve Jenkins is brilliant at finding intriguing angles for learning about wildlife. I love his approach, not to mention his truly beautiful work in paper collage.

This book is like candy for mid-elementary kids on up — I was enthralled by it! — who have arrived at the age where they gobble up statistics and record-breakers of all sorts.

Each two-page spread addresses a different capacity or quality — leaping distance, tongue length, deadliness of venom, speed. Jenkins uses immensely clever infographics and crisp, attractive page layouts to compare a number of different animals so we can see at a glance who are the winners and losers.


Bars radiate out like radio waves to illustrate differences in decibel level of various animals, from a tiny water boatman through hyenas, cicadas, whales, wolves… I bet you’ll be surprised who are the loudest creatures on the chart! And what about those tongues? The winner of Overall Tongue Length does not come nearly close to winning the record for tongue length when it’s compared to body size. If your tongue was just as long, how far would it reach?

Hand this to kids ages 8 and up to pour over and prepare to be peppered with new data points!

giant-squid-cover-imageGiant Squid, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
published in 2016, A Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Time to focus in on just one of the world’s stunning creatures. Let’s pick one of the largest animals on the planet. One that remains quite a mystery despite centuries of seeking it out. In fact, in her intriguing afterword, Fleming tells us that “we have more close-up photos of the surface of Mars” than of this ginormous creature, the giant squid.


Such an eerie, downright terrifying being! Rohmann accentuates the mystery and fright with his cold, dark, murky palette and closer-than-you’d-ever-want-to-be perspectives on those razor-sharp suckers and dinner-plate-big eyeball. Yikes. I don’t advise reading this right before a snorkeling expedition!


Fleming introduces us to this creepy sea monster with incisive, sensory-laden free verse. She’s done a fabulous job, creating a visceral sense of strangeness and wonder, almost a ghostly mystique. Her afterword fills in a great deal of fascinating information for middle graders and up. The book itself is for brave kids ages 6 and up. It won a Sibert Honor, just last week.

step-right-up-cover-imageStep Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, written by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter
published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books

If a giant squid is one of the most exotic and unknown of earth’s creatures, surely the horse is at the other end of the spectrum. But although horses are so familiar and loved, one horse and his amazing owner proved to be extraordinary beyond belief!

This is the story of a man named William “Doc” Key. Though he was born into slavery, the willingness of his owners to educate him and Doc’s sharp, curious mind meant that he learned, advanced, and transitioned into freedom with purpose, capability, and a hunger for success.


Doc wildly succeeded as a businessman, so much so that he became one of the wealthiest men in town. But it was his rich store of kindness, patience, and trust that enabled him to nurse to health one spindly colt and teach that horse an absolutely jaw-dropping amount of skills. We’re talking spelling. Telling time. Making change out of a register. I know you don’t believe me, but just read the book!

If you had been around in the 1890s, you could have seen Doc and his horse, Jim Key, perform to amazed audiences. Read this book and prepare to be astonished! Daniel Minter’s handsome block prints bring the era to life and bathe us in the golden warmth of the kindness Doc was known for.

A lengthy afterword provides lots more interesting information on both Doc and Jim Key. Enjoy this with ages 6 and older.

the-amazing-animal-adventure-cover-imageThe Amazing Animal Adventure: An Around-the-World Spotting Expedition, text by Anne Claybourne, illustrations by Brendan Kearney
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing

Finally, here’s a game-in-a-book that brings us to 21 particular habitats around the world, tells us very briefly about them, and provides jolly lists of animals to spot in each scene.

Visit the tundra in Greenland, a British rock pool, the Gomantong caves on the island of Borneo, hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, a mangrove forest in India, and spot familiar and unusual animals who love living just exactly there — a mugger crocodile, a frilled-neck lizard, burrowing owls, harbor seals, and gadzooks! a mighty lot of wrinkle-lipped bats!


You won’t read scads of information here, but you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of intriguing places and amazing creatures. Hopefully your curiosity will be piqued to investigate some of them a bit more. Great fun for ages 5 and up.

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I have a winner for my giveaway of Fancy Party Gowns!!


Rhapsody in Books — your name was drawn! Contact me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your shipping address and I’ll get that beauty off to you!

Meanwhile, the biggest book awards in U.S. children’s literature were awarded this week. You can find a list of all the winners here.

I’ve reviewed a number of those that were recognized and am always happy to have my attention drawn to other titles I haven’t yet had time to read.

Here are links to the reviews you can find here at Orange Marmalade:

The most prestigious prize is the Newbery Medal and it went to a Minneapolis author this year! Woohoo! That was:

the girl who drank the moon cover image
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

One of the books that won a Newbery Honor was just recently on my blog. It well deserves this honor, and was also awarded Coretta Scott King Honors for both its text and illustrations:

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan

The Caldecott is the big prize for illustration work. I have loved and previously reviewed all four of the Honor Books:


Leave Me Alone!, illustrated by written by Vera Brosgol

freedom in congo square cover image

Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. This book also won a Coretta Scott King Honor for its illustrations.


Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis


They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel

I’ve reviewed one of the Sibert Honor books thus far — a gripping account for teens through adult:

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We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Hitler, by Russell Freedman

One of the delightful Theodor Seuss Geisel awards went to:

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Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!: An Alphabet Caper, written and illustrated by Mike Twohy

I hope you’ll take the time to check these out if you missed them the first time. Every one is a gem!


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What’s black and white and read all over? It’s a riddle that has spanned generations.

Today the answer is: A passel of books full of black-and-white critters.

penguin-problems-cover-imagePenguin Problems, written and illustrated by Jory John
published in 2016 by Random House

This hilarious tale of a dismal, grumpy penguin made me laugh out loud in the bookstore.

The dour commentary begins, actually, on the jacket flap, with yours truly, one flumpy, fractious penguin grousing that we probably won’t even finish reading this book about him because why would anyone and you’ll probably get a bunch of paper cuts in the process anyway. Hrumph,hrumph,hrumph.


What seems to be the problem? Well, for one, it’s too early in the morning. And his beak is cold. And the sun’s too bright and the ocean too salty.


This guy clearly got up on the wrong side of the iceberg today and nothing, but nothing, is going to cheer him up. You wanna talk about problems? I have so many problems! he cries. This guy is the Bob Wiley of the penguin world.


There is a moment. A chance encounter with a sage walrus who attempts loquaciously to lift the penguin’s eyes up from his troubles and out onto the beauty of the world, but…well, have you tried that with a grumpus? Do you think it works?

Exactly the right touch of wry humor leads us skippeting through this very funny book, all to the tune of Jory John’s priceless illustrations. So brilliant, the volume of personality and emotion he can cram into one small lump of a penguin. Sure to put a smile on your faces even on One of Those Days. Ages 3 and up.

the-polar-bear-cover-imageThe Polar Bear, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond
published in 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books

Jenni Desmond won me over in one swish with her first title, The Blue Whale, reviewed here. Now she’s back with another gorgeous book about those burly arctic giants, the polar bear.

Desmond’s genius is in providing the fascination of non-fiction, written with clarity and not a snitch of talking down, combined with her superb artwork that incorporates a zephyr of imagination. The results are at the pinnacle of enticing nonfiction. Can I say it again — I love her work!


Read about these marvels, with foot pads “covered with small bumps much like the surface of a basketball” to give them a good grip on that polar ice. Whose eyes have “built-in sunglasses” and whose cubs, despite their mama’s massive size, are tiny and pink at birth, only “the size of a guinea pig.”


Soak in the mysterious, icy beauty of the Arctic, the shaggy, chuffing glory of the polar bear, and the merry antics of a small girl entering their world the same way we are — through the pages of a book.


Exceptional. For ages 4 and much older.

black-and-white-cover-imageBlack and White, written and illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar
originally published in 1963; reissued by Flying Eye Books in 2015

Flying Eye is painstakingly reissuing Dahlov Ipcar’s extraordinary books for which we should give them three cheers. This makes them accessible to you once again, even if you don’t have an archival library near you with copies of the originals.

Black and White is the simple story of a “little black dog and a little white dog [who] were friends” and together play happily in a world full of black and white creatures. Why, even their dreams are populated by things black-and-white — dark jungles with black-and-white colobus monkeys, plains teaming with black-and-white zebras, arctic regions bounding with snowy arctic foxes and galumptious black walruses.


All of this provides the platform for Ipcar’s iconic artwork. Stunning pages that are simply alive with pattern and motion and the magic of Ipcar’s way of seeing. The text is gently rhyming and full of poetic wonder.


Do yourself and your kids a favor and introduce them to this artist who helps us see the world with boundless curiosity and flair. Ages 2 and up.

black-cat-white-cat-cover-imageBlack Cat, White Cat, written and illustrated by Silvia Borando
published in Italy in 2014; first U.S. edition 2015 by Candlewick Press

Coming to us from Italy, Silvia Borando’s graphic stylishness is such a treat. This book makes a great companion to Ipcar’s story.

This time it’s two cats, one entirely white, one entirely black — but they’ve never met. Black Cat only goes out in the day, while White Cat ventures out only at night.


One day they become curious about the other side of things and venturing off to explore they meet up and guide one another into their lovely worlds. The wonder of the night with its “glittery fluttery fireflies” and the wonder of the day with all the “busy buzzy bumblebees” are deeply satisfying to these two newly inseparable friends.


Before you know it, Black Cat and White Cat have a batch of kittens. And can you guess what color they are? That’s the suspenseful teaser before the very last page turn! The answer is such a delight, I’m certainly not going to spoil it for you! Share this happy, simple story with children ages 18 months and up.

poles-apart-cover-imagePoles Apart, written by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Jarvis
published in 2015 by Nosy Crow

This is certainly the most colorful of our black and white stories today, as you can tell by the cover image alone.

Here’s a merry collection of penguins, who as you know inhabit the South Pole. Never the North Pole. Except that one fateful day, Mr. and Mrs. Pilchard-Brown and their penguins three — Peeky, Poots, and Pog — get lost on their way to a picnic and float on a small chunk of ice allllll the way up to the Arctic, where they bump into an enormous, furry fellow named Mr. White.


Mr. White gallantly offers to help these bird-brains find their way back home. And what an epic itinerary it is! Setting not exactly a straight course, the intrepid crew meander through the U.S., England, Italy, India, and Australia, before finally arriving at their destination.


Vivid, personality-laden illustrations, the antics of Peeky, Poots, and Pog, and gallons of friendliness warm up this story of the frozen reaches and creatures of our globe like cocoa on a winter morning. Jolly fun for ages 3 and up.

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