Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

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

Here are a few ideas:

Are they passionate about immigration?

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

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

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

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

Do they treasure the beauty of flora and fauna?

Try: The Lost Words (review here)

Are they enamored with words?

Try: Ounce Dice, Trice (review here)

Do they dream of world travels?

Try: City Atlas (review here)

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

Try: Wish (review here)

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

Try: A Child of Books (review here)

Are they allergic to morning?

Try: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes (review here)

Is Norse mythology their thing?

Try: Odd and the Frost Giants (review here)

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

Try: Skating Shoes (review here)

Need a book for your favorite feminist?

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

Have someone interested in African-American history? 

Try: Freedom Over Me (review here)

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

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

Or: March Trilogy (review here

Would they appreciate a gorgeous Minnesota read?

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

Are they jazzed by Art Deco?

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

In addition, you might consider…

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

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


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Have I saved the best for last? Giving books and bookish gifts is obviously what I love to do! Here are some great ideas for the kids in your life, plus a give-away

Litograph t-shirts

Text and illustrations make up these clever t-shirts. I am partial to Blueberries for Sal, but there are lots of choices so check them out.

Out of Print t-shirts

Favorites old and new beautifully printed.

Bookplates for those special books

I had bookplates as a child. It is lovely to feel ownership of a really special book, one to keep for always.

Anorak magazine or Dot magazine subscription

Magazine subscriptions sashay into a child’s mailbox all year long.
I recently discovered these tremendously creative magazines coming out of the UK. Gorgeous graphic design. A lalapalooza of imagination-sparking, brain-fizzing stuff for ages 2-5 (Dot) and 6-12 (Anorak.)

Visit their awesome webpage to get the details. Keep in mind these are British magazines so embrace the British English and some UK-oriented features. To me, that is an added bonus!

GIVE AWAY ALERT! If you’d like to win the two copies Anorak so graciously sent me — the Food issue of Dot and the Art issue of Anorak — just comment with a “sign me up!”. Winner will be notified on the blog, December 4th, so don’t delay!  U.S. mailing addresses only, please.

Literary cookbooks

Jama Rattigan’s delectable blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, has a round-up of delightful cookbooks based on favorite characters from Goldilocks to Star Wars.  Kids will love mixing up Diana Barry’s Favorite Raspberry Cordial or Hans Soloatmeal!! You can find Jama’s entire list here.

A boxed set of classics

Wow. Gorgeous design work courtesy of Rifle Paper Company. Many happy getting-lost-in-a-book moments all packaged up for you! I love tempting new readers with old classics.
Amazon Link

And a few more ideas for book-giving — one classic and one new title for each age group. I had to limit myself or the list would get too long! Browse through my blog for gobs more ideas.

 One for the whole family: The Lost Words

Read my review here to see what’s in store in this gorgeous, remarkable book.
Amazon Link

Ages 0-2:

something old: More More More Said the Baby (regular and board)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: Night and Day: A Book of Opposites, by Julie Safirstein
published in 2017 by Princeton Architectural Press
I haven’t reviewed this on my blog but it’s exploding in clever, exciting pop-ups for careful fingers! And yes, many small children can be careful with books. Plus: tape.
Amazon Link

Ages 2-5:

something old: My Father’s Dragon
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Street Beneath My Feet
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 5-8:

something old: A Bear Called Paddington
Amazon Link
review here

something new: This Is How We Do It
Amazon Link
review here

Ages 8-12:

something old: Swallows and Amazons
(The new paperback from David Godine has a wretched cover! Here’s a link for this one which is available from 3rd party sellers.)
Amazon Link
review here

something new: The Wonderling
Amazon Link
review here

If you are able — please shop at a local Independent Bookstore. That’s who will keep the great books coming to us, trust me.

If you’re going to shop at Amazon anyway, then consider using my Amazon affiliate links. If you click through to Amazon on one of my links, I get a small dab back from Amazon no matter what you purchase. Thanks to those of you who do.

That’s it for 2017’s gift lists.
I’ll be back next week with some cheery new Christmas titles!


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I just received my copy of The Lost Words and it is much larger, just as handsome, and quite as magical as I suspected it would be.

The Lost Words: A Spell Book, written by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris
published in 2017 by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books

To fully appreciate the book, a bit of background is required.

I do love British literature and find myself very often recommending British children’s books here on Orange Marmalade.

my well-worn Pooh Bear

From my tattered, stained, childhood volume of Winnie the Pooh through the entire 12-volume Swallows and Amazons series which we read aloud with our children, often around the campfire during our annual summer camping trips…

Barklems knowledge of natural history is on display throughout this charming series.

…to the loveliness of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series, and Beatrix Potter’s thoroughly unsentimental tales… I could go on and on.

One of the differences I’ve noticed over the years between British and American literature — for children and adults — is the propensity of the Brits to properly name the flora and fauna in a story’s setting. Thus gorsebushes, hawthorns, and cowslips, thrushes, starlings, and coots, all appear even in stories for very young children, rather than merely birds, ducks, flowers, and trees.

A gorse bush, such as ambushed Pooh Bear on occasion.

To conjure up a picture of a woodland “filled with spring flowers” or to conjure an image of a woodland “drifted in trillium” for example, is quite a different thing. If you know what trillium is.

Trillium bloomed like snow in the woods near my in-laws home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

To speak of a barn swallow’s nest to children who have seen one mudded into an out-of-the-way corner, nestled in the porch rafters perhaps, creates a vivid picture quite different from simply “a bird’s nest” which could look dozens of different ways.

However, British researchers have substantiated the sad reality that yes, even in Britain, these richly-precise words once commonly used by children to talk about the natural world have begun to fade away. No longer do children talk of brambles or ferns, kingfishers or wrens. Their study results, published in Science, mourned the fact that presently children seem “more inspired by synthetic subjects” such as Pokemon characters, than by “living creatures.” Part of the tragedy, beyond the richness of life and experience which is lost when children are nature-deprived, is that since “we love what we know,” fewer children can be brought to care about the extinction of a species, for example, the loss of habitat, the despoiling of a vibrant, vital natural world.

Children’s language and writings on the whole began not to employ this more precise vocabulary. Thus we arrive at the “lost words” that Robert Macfarlane began to ponder as a result of his reading and reflecting on this research.

If the act of naming something lends credence to it, acknowledges it, vivifies it, the disappearance of that name correspondingly blurs its reality, perhaps even disappears that thing — wren-ness, bluebell-ness — from our conscious knowledge of its existence, our ability to experience its reality, to see it. This idea set author Macfarlane to musing about the almost magical power of naming in old fantasies and eventually brought him to the concept of this profound, gorgeous book. You can read Macfarlane’s article relaying in much fuller and more cogent detail his thoughts — the article that initially cued me into this title — at the link here. It’s absolutely fascinating.

So, the book. Twenty living things — from dandelions to weasels — are conjured once again in The Lost Words, brought back from a sort of banishment into their old vigor and resplendence via the “spells” spoken by us, the readers. These spells consist entirely of naming the creature. The way it works is this:

On a double-page spread, a tangle of letters meanders atop a natural setting in which it feels, somehow, that something is missing. Here, for example, is a glade of trees with a sense of barren vacancy.

If we pick out the letters in blue (contrasting with the other, golden letters), we find the name of what is missing. “Bluebell.” Say that name aloud, and turn the page…

Voila! A bluebell appears, and an anacrostic poem describing a bluebell-filled wood, with “billows blue so deep, sea deep, each step is taken in an ocean.” Macfarlane wrote these poems, and each one is finely-crafted, dignified, wonderfully respectful of children’s minds.

Turn the page once again and Jackie Morris’s stunning painting spreads a revitalized scene before us. Our “spell” — our naming of bluebell — has worked! The wood is transformed with the reappearance of this splendor of nature.

The size of the book — coffee-table worthy — means we feel ushered right into these lush scenes, magically whisked feather-close to the cerulean line-up of kingfishers perched just over the pond or up into icy alpine world of the raven.

Elegant. Artful. Inspiring wonder. Bidding us to attend to the natural world more closely, know it, name it. This highly unusual book knits together science, poetry, and art, magnificently. I hope it coaxes many into the great outdoors to exult and see and name and know and care for the treasures of nature around us.

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Looking for a new gem for your stack of bedtime reading? Check out these titles that have risen to the tiptop of a towering stack of books I’ve read recently. (And that takes some doing!)

Want something wildly imaginative, slightly off-kilter, with adventure spilling over the rim?

The Only Fish in the Sea, written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Oh, my dear Sadie, you are back!! That indefatigable gal from Special Delivery is here with a new challenge: Rescuing a birthday-present-goldfish that’s been cold-heartedly pitched into the sea by snooty Little Amy Scott!

Sadie and her pal Sherman won’t let the odds of finding such a small fella in such a large ocean daunt them. Just collect one boat, twenty-one pink balloons, and plenty of hot tea, and they’re ready for anything.

Sadie’s nonchalant narration is offset by the jazzy illustration work of Matthew Cordell. Non-stop, hyper-energized, careening fun. His intrepid band of monkeys alone would ordinarily steal the show except for Sadie’s sheer splendidness. Do I love this book? Yes, I do. Ages 4 and up.

Want something racy, happy, and generous?

Mama Lion Wins the Race, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Drawing inspiration from Italian motorcar races and loved-to-the-nubbins stuffed animals, this brilliant tale of speed, strategy, and a massive dose of warmhearted friendship is one to read over and over again with ages 2 or 3 and up.

Goes well with a cup of cocoa.

Want something beautiful, nature-adorned, and clever?

Plume, written and illustrated by Isabelle Simler
first published in France; published in the U.S. in 2017 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Stunning illustrations of birds and their whisper-soft, dazzling feathers dominate the pages of this quiet book. The only text until the last two pages consists of the name of each bird.

from the French edition

Look closely, though. There’s someone occupying each page besides the main attraction. What is that black cat up to? A lovely beacon to observation; inspirational for those drawing from nature. Ages 4 and up. 

Want something fairy-tale dark, tingly with suspense and warm with neighborliness at the same time?

When a Wolf is Hungry, written by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris DiGiacomo
originally published in France in 2011; first U.S. edition 2017 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

When a toothy wolf is hungry, and a “grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit with just a hint of sweetness” is living, obliviously, on the 5th floor — well, that’s a recipe for “hare-raising” adventure, right?!

And we’ve got that, dished up with theatrical aplomb in this highly-satisfying story. Sharp knife?  Check. Weber grill?!  Check. Chainsaw?!! Check, check, check. Only thing is, Mr. Wolf has a modicum of politeness and a load of neighbors who keep inadvertently foiling his plans. What can they be up to? Brave children ages 4 and up will love this.

Want something friendly, welcoming, and quiet?

That Neighbor Kid, a wordless book by Daniel Miyares
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

And I don’t mean quiet just because there are no words. Miyares’ mood, artwork, and storyline all unreel with a lovely unrushed, yesteryear flavor that draws us in the way a whisper does in a cacophony of noise. Hush. Be still. Watch.

Gray-scale ink and watercolor illustrations wash the story’s opening with tranquility, hesitancy, even loneliness. The new kid on the block barely has the courage to peep out her window at her new neighbor. As the story unfolds, walls are literally torn down between them and collaboration begins, a prime tree house emerges from their joint efforts, and a sunny wash seeps its way into the spreads.

Warm-hearted as a cup of cocoa and just the note of welcome and friendship we sorely need in these divisive days. Ages 3 and up.

Want something nautical, classic, and gripping?

Mighty Moby, written by Barbara Da Costa, illustrated by Ed Young
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Snippets and sea chanteys from Herman Melville’s classic whale-of-a-tale narrate this heart-pounding adventure that with one swish sails itself into a calm harbor just right for pillows and peace.

Astoundingly inventive collaboration for brave young skippers ages 3 and up. Bound to win some illustration prizes.

Want something full of happy-birthday anticipation?

When’s My Birthday? written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Julie Fogliano captures the anticipation of waiting, waiting, waiting for a birthday to come in her ambling, poetic text.

How many days until my birthday, this child asks again and again. There’s wishing for presents, dreaming of lots of chocolate and “tiny sandwiches with soup,” inviting one and all…and waiting, waiting, waiting until finally, the glorious day is here.

Christian Robinson can do no wrong, can he? His naive cut-paper collages, smiley kids and bunting, excellently-huge chocolate cake, and warm diversity are the perfect accompaniment. Happy and utterly relatable, for ages 2 and up.

Want something elegant, historical, gorgeous, and  slightly haunting?

Town is by the Sea, written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith
published in 2017 by Groundwood Books

What an unusual picture book, this account of a young boy living in a mining town on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

The vast, sparkling sea spreads out before him. Lupines line sunny roadsides. A baloney sandwich and tall glass of milk are what’s for lunch. Ordinary as Opie Taylor. Yet punctuating his narrative, interrupting the light, are thoughts of his dad, at work deep under the sea, digging for coal.

It’s a gripping juxtaposition, emphasized by Sydney Smith’s fabulous illustrations, sepia and sea-blues giving way to body-buckling darkness, tons of coal hulking over hunched miners. Wow.

An Author’s Note tells how from the late 1800s up to the 1950s when this story takes place, young boys grew up knowing they would follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers who spent twelve-hour days in “the harsh, dangerous, dark reality underground.” A stunning slice of life for ages 5 to 100.

Want something rich with grandfatherly hope?

Sing, Don’t Cry, written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

There are only a few people in your life who can tell you to sing when you’re feeling low, and you don’t want mainly to punch them.

But a grandfather like Angela Dominguez’s abuelo is one of them. That’s because his long life has been streaked with troubles, sorrows, difficulties, and he offers what has been a balm for his soul during those hard times — the gift of music. “Sing, don’t cry, because singing gladdens the heart,” he says, his warm eyes smiling into ours.

This affectionate tribute to Dominguez’s real abuelo — a mariachi musician from Mexico City —  is clearly a work of love. It’s a brief, hope-filled offering that, again, arrives with timeliness just now. Ages 2 and up.

Want something vintage and fresh?

If Apples Had Teeth, by Milton and Shirley Glaser
first published in 1960; reprinted in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Take one of the most celebrated graphic designers in America, pair him up with a series of quirky, clever, imaginative, if-then statements and here’s what you get:

Pure, brain-fizzing delight.

Shirley Glaser’s brilliant text is wonderful fodder for minds that refuse to be hemmed in by the ordinary. A book to make you smile and see possibilities! Ages 2 and up.

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Today our tour lands in the islands of the Caribbean. When I started working on this tour six months ago, I surely did not imagine the way it would overlap with the devastation of hurricane Irma. 

In addition to these island nations, we’ll travel through the diverse, artistic land of Mexico as well, a portion of which is reeling from the recent earthquake

I’m glad, though, for the chance to highlight these extraordinary homelands at this particular moment and invite you to give towards needed relief. 

In fact, here and here are links for donating to Save the Children, a long-term, reputable charity coordinating care for children and families.

I had much more difficulty than I was expecting in finding titles about life in Mexico. By far the majority of  books I ran across were set in the U.S. featuring children with Mexican heritage, while I was looking for stories that open a window onto life in contemporary Mexico itself.

And those titles set in Mexico are nearly invariably about Day of the Dead celebrations. Which is a fascinating subject! But it’s just one day a year.

What is ordinary life like in cosmopolitan Mexico City?

In fishing villages along the Pacific Coast?

In the rugged, hot north?

Or towns tucked in the mountains and hillsides? Why are these neighbors of ours so little known to us?

As always, if you know of great titles that fill these gaps, please tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, grab your flip flops and come along with me to…

The Caribbean

Caribbean Dream, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 1998 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Rachel Isadora’s beautiful, warm portraits of the people and scenery of the Caribbean captivate us at every turn of the page in this small, sweet book.

Her brief, poetic text lulls us, coaxes us to fall in love with the islands and the children who call them home. Simply lovely. Share this gem with ages 18 months and older.

La Isla, written by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 1995 by Dutton Children’s Books

An explosion of tropical colors greets us in Elisa Kleven’s joyous illustrations of this unnamed Caribbean isle.  Get swept up in a tutti-frutti-coconut-confetti dream when you open this book!

Rosalba and her Abuela travel in their imaginations to visit grandmother’s homeland, la isla, to reminisce and meet old relatives, cool their toes in turquoise waves and feast on juicy mangoes. A delightful flight of fancy crammed with love. A Spanish glossary is provided for the words sprinkled in the text. I’ve loved this book for many years. It’s a treat for ages 3 and up.

Malaika’s Costume, written by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

It’s Carnival time but this year for the first time, Mummy is not home. She’s gone to Canada to find work, to make a better life so Malaika and Granny can join her there.

Right now Malaika has just one thing on her mind and that’s her costume. She’s been waiting for Mum to send a bit of money so she can dazzle in the parade, but when Mum writes it’s to say there’s still not enough for costumes. Grandma has an old, dusty, pitiful one from when she was a girl, but Malaika wants no part of that.

Happily, Malaika and Grandma’s love and creativity find a way straight past the obstacles.  The patois of the Caribbean is used to tell this contemporary story, with lots of cultural bits worked in alongside the main storyline. Luxbacher’s cool, mixed-media artwork sparkles with tropical colors and Caribbean textiles. Ages 4 and up.


All the Way to Havana, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Co

A lush, warm, contemporary Cuba affectionately spills across the pages of this delightful story about one boy and his parents making the drive in to Havana to celebrate a birthday.

The sights and sounds of Cuba roll by — its colorful homes, laundry flapping in the breeze, colonnaded buildings, chickens pecking the sun-baked earth — but it’s the array of vintage American automobiles that are front and center here. An Author’s note explains very simply why these classic cars are so common in Cuba. Politics aside, the joy this boy feels as he and his dad manage to jerry rig his family’s car, the happiness of hearing her “purr cara cara and glide taka taka along,  are infectious. 

A brand new gem to enjoy with ages 2 and up. Vintage car lovers — this is your book!

Drum Dream Girl, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them. Until Millo changed that. 

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, for ages 3 and up.


Painted Dreams, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

Ti Marie has the soul of an artist. With just a chunk of orange brick, a bit of charcoal, and a cement wall, she creates beauty in her small world. What she really would like, though, are tubes of paint like Msie Antoine’s.

Mama thinks its all foolishness. She’s got troubles of her own with puny sales in her unlucky corner of the marketplace. But when Ti Marie’s charming artwork transforms Mama’s business, her dreams do start coming true. A cheery story incorporating ordinary life and Haitian religion, with an Author’s Note telling more about Haitian artists’ practices.  Lovely, for ages 4 and up.

Tap Tap, written by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1995 by HMH Books for Young Readers

As Sasifi walks to market with Mama she looks longingly at the brilliantly-colored tap-taps — the truck taxis of Haiti — and recommends to her Mama that they ride one.  Mama is too frugal, though, and they continue on foot all the weary way.  

At the market, Sasifi works hard and manages to sell so many oranges that Mama gives her some coins to spend on whatever she pleases.  What will Sasifi choose?  Peanut candy?  Icy cold juice?  No, siree.  Sasifi buys two spots in a tap-tap so they can enjoy a thrilling ride home.  It turns out to be quite a squished ride…but a happy one, nonetheless.   Along the way we learn why the trucks are called tap-taps!

Catherine Stock’s watercolors bring the landscapes, people, markets, and tap-taps of Haiti to vivid life. An old favorite of mine for ages 3 and up.

Running the Road to ABC, written by Denizé Lauture, illustrated by Reynold Ruffins
published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Haitian poet  Lauture weaves a lyrical story of a group of six children who run “up and down steep hills six days each week, forty weeks each year, for seven years of their short lives.”

Waking up to roosters, cooking up yucca and Congo beans, flattening slugs with the bottom of their running bare feet, passing acres of sugarcane — they run and run and run. Where are they going?

Gorgeous depictions of the Haitian countryside and the hopes of the children are accompanied by vivid paintings in this joyful story for ages 5 and up.

Haiti My Country

Poems about a “ripe mango, fresh mango, yellow mango” and the dancing Haitian trees. Poems telling of the cool shelter of a humble hut, of Haiti’s “dazzling greenery,” and the tastiness of the peppers and sweet potatoes in a peasant’s garden.

All written by Haitian schoolchildren, and illustrated stunningly by a Quebecois artist. Read my full review of this exquisite book here

British Virgin Islands

Little Man

Amid the tall, swaying palms, sparkling turquoise waters, and skimming brown pelicans of Little Scrub Island, a boy named Albert Quashie feels squashed under a boatload of troubles.

Discover how joining a troupe of Mocko Jumbies makes him –literally! — soar above his problems in this delightful chapter book for ages 9 and up. Such an unusual setting. Read my full review here.


My Little Island, written and illustrated by Frané Lessac
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 1984 by HarperCollins

This little jewel just exudes 1980s with its smallish size and page layouts. I love it!

Frané Lessac has lived in many places around the world. At the time of this publication, she had spent some years on the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles and recorded her love for the land and its people in her trademark naive paintings. Lessac’s observations of the stone houses, frangipani blossoms, delicious tropical fruits, bustling markets, fresh catches of fish, calypso bands, and even the neighborhood volcano, have a marvelous authentic ring.

 You’ll fall in love with this place in the few minutes it takes you to journey through these pages. A vintage gem for ages 3 and up.

Trinidad and Tobago

Drummer Boy of John John, written by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac
published in 2012 by Lee & Low

Everybody in John John is busy getting ready for Carnival. They’re sewing beads on outrageously bright costumes and decorating flamboyant masks. The Roti King is cooking up a storm to get ready for crowds who’ll come for his “famous folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices.” He’s even promised free rotis for the best calypso band in the parade.

Winston loves rotis. He wishes more than anything that he were part of a band so he might win that prize. But the chac-chac players, the tamboo bamboo band, the bottle-and-spoon orchestra, the shango drummers — none of them needs an extra player.

 Things take a happy turn, though, when Winston stumbles across an idea for a new band that’s simply terrific! This ebullient story springs off the pages with Frané Lessac’s uber-bright colors and patterns. An Author’s Note tells about the real Winston, a pioneer in the development of the steel drum. Great piece of culture for sharing with  ages 3 and up.

 An Island Christmas, written by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1992 by Clarion Books

Rosie is helping Mama prepare for Christmas in their home on Trinidad. She gathers juicy red sorrel fruits for a tangy Christmas drink. She lines cake pans with wax paper for the sticky, sweet currants Tantie is mixing with spices, molasses, and eggs for luscious black current cakes.

She barefoot-runs into the warm night to join the parang band, then doles out ham sandwiches to the musicians as they tingalayo off to the next street.

There’s lots more sweetness here …soursop ice cream, the sugar cane man, alloe pies, and the jumble of family together, all told in Rosie’s wonderful Caribbean dialect. A sweet treat for ages 3 and up.


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

Several of our recent destinations throughout Latin America merge in this excellent chapter book, so while it’s not about Mexico per se, I’m including it here.

I love this account, in which a young girl collects fascinating childhood memories from 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 of these dishes are gathered in the final pages of the book. It’s a delightful read with an extensive glossary for Spanish terms.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School, written by Edith Hope Find and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, illustrated by Hernán Sosa
published in 2014 by Lee and Low

Armando is a young Mexican boy whose family lives in a neighborhood near the city dump.  They make their living as pepenadores, trash pickers, sorting through stinking mounds of garbage each day to find bottles and cans to sell.

  One day Armando spies a pick-up truck rolling into town.  It’s Señor David!  He has come back again!  Señor David pulls out a large blue tarp and spreads it on the ground.  He sets up a chalkboard and papers and paints.  Children gather on the blue tarp, and Señor David begins to teach, for the blue tarp is actually their school. 

A heartwarming story based on the work of David Lynch, for ages 4 and up.

Dear Primo, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2010 by Abrams

Two cousins — one in Mexico, one in the U.S. — write letters back and forth, telling one another about their lives. See how their neighborhoods, schools, sports,  foods, holidays, are delightfully different, even while their overall lives are full of strikingly similar patterns. 

Duncan Tonatiuh has earned many accolades by now for his extraordinary illustration. This was his first book! Ages 4 and up.

Dia de los Muertos, written by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
published in 2015 by Albert Whitman and Company

There are dozens of books about Day of the Dead celebrations. This one is jubilant with color, illustrated with zest and style, and written in rhyming couplets that include a hefty sprinkling of Spanish words (and a glossary to help with that.)

From dawn to dark, join the festivities by adorning altars, munching on sweet calaveras, decorating the graves of ancestors and settling in for a grand picnic. Then get dressed up for the parade, the mariachi bands and dancing. An afterword fills in lots of cultural detail. Great choice for ages 3 and up.

To learn more about the origins of the calaveras, you can’t do better than:

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.

A multiple award-winner, ingenuously formatted, told, and illustrated, for ages 5 and up.

M is for Mexico, written and photographed by Flor de María Cordero
published in 2007 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This book in the Frances Lincoln series alphabetically surveys life in Mexico, from the zocalo in Mexico City to ancient pyramids still standing, baptism ceremonies in this highly-Catholic nation, and the sweet treats children like to buy in the market. Ages 3 and up.

Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya Family, written and photographed by George Ancona
published in 1997 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The small town of Teabo in Yucatán, Mexico, is home to Armando and Gaspár, two little boys who are the shining stars of this lovely photodocumentary.

Journey to this sun-baked place, where the women adorn their white dresses with fabulous embroidery, the fathers build a bullring for the upcoming fiesta, and the boys go to school, play, help with branding and planting at their grandparents’ ranch, surrounded by the clearly tight bonds of this family. Warm and inviting, rich with cultural detail and excellent photography, the book includes an Author’s Note describing the fascinating and difficult history of the Mayan people. Ages 4 and up.

The Fabulous Firework Family, written and illustrated by James Flora
published in 1994 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

In the picturesque village of Santiago, Pepito and his family are known as the Fabulous Firework Family for their Gandalfian incendiary displays. This year, to celebrate the birthday of the town’s patron saint, the mayor himself commissions a showstopper of a castillo! One that makes “more noise than thunder, more smoke than a volcano, and more sparks than there are stars in the heavens.”

Watch this family collect the ingredients for those outbursts of color, build the fanciful structures of the castillo, and unleash the grandest spectacle ever. I’ll admit, I didn’t even know what a castillo was until I read this book and then looked them up on youtube! Quite epic! Bits of Spanish language and a confetti-shower of color bring this tale to life. Ages 4 and up.  (A completely different version of both text and illustration was published by James Flora in 1955. I have not seen it.)

Saturday Market, written by Patricia Grossman, illustrated by Enrique O. Sánchez
published in 1994 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

The lively Saturday market in Oaxaca, Mexico, bustles with people visiting stalls crowded with wares. Sacks of chile peppers, brilliant rebozos, vibrant woven rugs, delicious coconut bread, fresh tortillas, and of course, the delightful Zapotecas carved and painted by artisans.

Join the throngs, walk through the market with all its enticing fare, and learn about these makers and traders. A warm story with lots to notice in the warm, colorful illustrations, for ages 3 and up.

Julio’s Magic, written by Arthur Dorros, collages by Ann Grifalconi
published in 2005 by Harper Collins

Furthering our understanding of the Oaxacan artisans is this tender story of a young boy named Julio, his dreams of winning the annual carving contest, and his dear mentor, the talented carver, Iluminado.

Ann Grifalconi’s inspired collages carry us into Julio’s village and display some of the wildly-colorful, imaginative sculptures Oaxacan carvers are famous for. A quiet, charming read for ages 4 and up.

That’s it for today! Our next and penultimate stop zooms us way up north to visit our other neighbor, Canada.

  This round-the-world jaunt is nearing its conclusion. I hope you’ll invite folks who would enjoy making the tour to check out all our destinations — past, present, and future.

Here are the links thus far:

Destination: Central and South America

Destination: West Africa

Destination: Central and South Africa

Destination: East Africa

Destination: Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa

Destination: Indian Subcontinent

Destination: East Asia

Destination: Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

A Sampler of Cultures

Buckle up for a World Tour

Musings: a world of swiss cheese


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Welcome to another school year, whatever your schooling looks like.

Today I’ve got five top picks for those heading to what my kids fondly called “real school.” But if you’re a homeschooling family, let me just remind you that Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School is the best thing out there for celebrating that rumply, freewheeling, juicy-living lifestyle some of us have happily embraced. You can find my review of that here.

I’ve gathered all my school-ish sorts of titles in one new list on my Subject page, so if you want more school-oriented reads, take a look there. All are linked to their original reviews.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices, written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

I love this book’s clever, honest, tender introductions to six children beginning a new school year. One each from grades K through 5. Girls and boys. White, Black, Hispanic. Hearing impaired. Latch-key. Each one with tiny trepidations, misgivings, longings.

In free verse, these kids tell what’s on their minds as they manage the first day of school. Four chapters usher us from “The Night Before” through “After School” with entries from all six kids in each section. The honesty and vulnerability expressed make this a very relatable book that can also help grow empathy within child and adult readers. Mika Song’s soft, fresh illustrations clearly, unobtrusively introduce kids we care about.  Share this with ages 5 and up.

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten, written by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove
published in 2017 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

I fell in love with Amanda Panda on page 6 of this funny, warm story of mismatched personalities, vexing disappointments, and finding the way to kindness.

Amanda is a gal who knows her business. Likes brown. Speed. Vehicles. And being important. Her plans for kindergarten are big and bold.

The first inkling of a spanner in the works comes at the bus stop where Amanda meets “a girl in head-to-toe pink. So much pink it gives Amanda a headache.”

In fact, this pink girl gives Amanda more than one headache, so Amanda up and quits kindergarten. Joins her big brother in the second grade. As you might expect, this choice is not actually allowed.

Read this story, groan with Amanda, and cheer her on as she chooses kindness in the end. Christine Grove has captured the larger-than-life personalities here perfectly. Great fun for ages 4 and up.

Daddy Long Legs, written by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Aurélie Guillerey
originally published in France in 2015; English edition 2017 by Kids Can Press

Meet a fashionable, contemporary, father-centric, school story that echoes the steadfast love of Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny.

At least, that’s what this charming tale recalled for me. 

Daddy is driving his small charge to kindergarten. The old green car was having a bit of trouble this morning, however.  Sounded like it had a case of the hiccups. This sets small Matthew to worrying —

— what if, this afternoon, when Dad’s supposed to come pick him up, the car plum won’t start??

Not to worry. If the car won’t start, says Dad, “I will come and fetch you in the neighbor’s big red tractor.” And if that won’t work — still no worries. Dad’s got every possible wrinkle covered. He’ll be there at the end of the day. You can bet your bottom dollar!

Zesty design makes every page sing with retro happiness in this warm, loving story for ages 2 and up.

Monkey with a Toolbelt and the Silly School Mystery, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Huzzah for Duluth, Minnesota author Chris Monroe and her manic, handymonkey, Chico Bon Bon! These are dandy stories, if you haven’t already made their acquaintance.

In this episode, Chico Bon Bon and his pal Clark are off to school. And of course, Chico has got a specialized tool belt for the occasion. Wowza! He did not kit this out at any school supply store I have ever seen. Complete with sparkle sprinkler, maple-scented glue, light-up scissors, calming fluff…you name it. Seriously.

Chico’s tool belt comes in super handy for fixing all manner of defective items around school, but it’s especially advantageous in solving a great mystery involving Many Curiously Missing Things, from library books to taco shells. Learn all about the bizarre goings-on at Chico’s school and the surprising discovery he makes in this splendid adventure, perfect for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Mess, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Henry is a great kid. He loves to play hard, share, make his mom proud, do the right thing…

There is just one problem: Henry is an incredibly messy little rhino. He has the dickens of a time staying clean.

Most days that’s okay, but today? Today is a special day and Henry has vowed to keep his shirt spic and span. All. Day. Long.

And you know what? He does it. Henry manages to emerge at Class Picture Time just as neat as a pin. How does he do it?

I predict you and your kids will laugh out loud at this comical, warmhearted story. Dear Henry, and dear Mrs. Williams, his unflappable teacher. I love ’em both. A riot for ages 3 and up.


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Welcome to a cherry-sweet helping of cheery stories.

Whether you need a story to match your sunny mood or one to relieve the gray, these’ll quench your thirst!

Raymond, by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Raymond is happy to be part of the family, enjoying lavish birthday parties, snug spots by the sofa, and copious scratching in just the right spot behind his ears, when it suddenly occurs to him that he has no seat at the table. Literally. Why am I eating out of a bowl on the floor ?

His mission to become as human as possible takes him everywhere from the movies to the corporate world, the rest of the canine population keeping right up with him. But exhausted by this frenetic pace, Raymond makes a huge, doggy discovery.

What is the good life anyway? Raymond is a brilliant, charismatic character. The artwork here is sophisticated and contemporary, with many hilarious visual puns to keep adult readers in good humor. Check it out for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Day, written and illustrated by Lane Smith
published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

What makes a perfect summer’s day for you?

For cat, it’s that golden sun pouring warmth onto his back as he lounges amongst the daffodils.

For dog, it’s the sparkling cool water that his buddy Bert hoses into the wading pool, just for him.

Discover how one person’s perfect day just might clobber all the others in this playful, surprising tale. Jolly for ages 2 and up.

Gus’s Garage, written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
first published in New Zealand, 2016; first American edition 2017 by Gecko Press

Gus is a first class collector of the odd bits and bobs. His motor garage overflows with what appears to be useless junk!

Yet as one friend after another arrives with car troubles of all sorts and sizes, Gus’s salvage yard, fueled by his enormous cleverness, sends each one off with a curiously, marvelously improved vehicle!

Great fun, with Timmers’ gleaming artwork boinging off the pages. Watch the way that junk pile disappears little by little as the story progresses. Ages 2 and up.

The Frog in the Well, written by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
originally published in 1958; republished by the New York Review Children’s Collection in 2017

Here’s a charming vintage classic by a talented duo. There was once a frog who lived in a well. He loved everything about his well and believed it to be the whole world! What a lot he was missing. The freshness of a daisy. The rustle of a spring breeze. The cool shadows of a forest.

When necessity forces this little fellow to clamber out of his well, he discovers what a wide and interesting world is indeed out there! Such wisdom he gains, as well as lots of new froggy friends. Great story with splendid illustrations by Duvoisin.  Share this with ages 3 and up.

Things to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

Lushly imaginative, this book sparks ideas and wonderings that are rich food for the mind.

What would you do, if you were the Dawn? “Shoo away night. Wash the eastern sky with light…Rouse resting roosters. Set songbirds singing.

And what if you were a honeybee? How about an eraser?! Each ordinary object has resplendent purpose in these lyrical, brief musings. They’re accompanied by warm, dreamy artwork — great collaboration going on here. This will surely prompt new ways of seeing, thinking, imagining in children, ages 2 and older.

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, written by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Tea, that elixir of comfort, that afternoon companion of sweets, that spicy morning aroma! Around the world there are such varieties of tea, such strong traditions for preparing and serving it!

This fantastical story finds the Queen in a dither. Her cuppa is just not making the grade. In fact, it tastes downright horrible. So off she sets in her hot-air balloon, traveling the world to discover the perfect cup of tea. Landing in Japan, India, and Turkey, the Queen is treated to a lovely tea at each stop.

What makes the perfect cup? Her warmhearted conclusion will make you smile. Charming illustrations and an author’s note telling more about tea round this one out. I wish they’d included more precise directions for each brew but you’ll have to experiment on your own. That sounds like the recipe for a lovely summer’s day! Ages 4 and up.

Norton and Alpha, written and illustrated by Kristyna Litten
published in 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Norton lives in a nearly-dystopian landscape, grey factories looming above a wasteland of industrial scrap. For all that, he’s quite a happy fellow because Norton is a collector and an inventor. All these odds and ends are useful for building doohickeys and thingamabobs of one sort and another. His latest invention is Alpha — an immensely satisfying robot companion.

One day Norton and Alpha find something highly unusual. What on earth is it? Try as they might, they cannot discover what particular use this thing has, until with the miracle of seeds and blooms, their world is transformed and they discover its purpose: Beauty. Share this unusual, surprising ode to beauty and growing things with children ages 3 and up.

A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

At age 22, John Keats tramped off to the hills of Scotland for a good think. There he wrote a letter to his sister, Fanny, which included this homely, eccentric little poem.

Four verses describe a naughty little boy who scribbles poetry and runs away from home to Scotland and what he finds there. It’s a poem full of nonsense and merriment, nursery rhyme rhythms, delicious wordplay, and a pinch of audacity.

Chris Raschka’s wildly loose line, swashy colors, and preposterous figures bring this song to life in the best way. Like a tart strawberry mousse, a squirt of lime, a juicy smack of bubblegum — taste and enjoy with kids ages 3 and up. An illustrator’s note gives more background information on Keats.

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed!, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Lori Nichols
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

It’s nighty-night time on the farm but when Pig waddley-jogs his way to the sty what does he discover?! The cow, sleeping in his bed. Harrumph! “Go sleep in your own bed!” grumps Pig.

So off cow tromps to her stall. But — you guessed it — someone else has curled up in cow’s hay. The hilarious sequence of unwelcome bed-stealers that unfolds here is absolute picture book perfection for children ages 18 months and up. Perfect page turns. Merrily inventive language. Humorous illustration work. And a repeating chorus of “Go sleep in your own bed!” perfect for joining in all together. This is one to read again and again and again…

The Three Little Pugs and the Big Bad Cat, written by Becky Davies, illustrated by Caroline Attia
published originally in Great Britain; published in the U.S. 2017 by Tiger Tales

Plum silly, that’s what you get here with these three ridiculous pugs dressed to kill and taking the parts of the famous pigs.

The two younger brothers are as lazy a lot as those other straw-and-stick builders, and the third one even cleverer, I dare say, than the original, with both a brick house and a wily escape plan.

Their nemesis, a mean and clever kitty who wants to snitch their food in the worst way, is quite a success at the huffing and puffing. But you’ll be shocked — shocked, I say! — by her true identity and comeuppance! Giggles galore here with utterly brilliant, preposterous illustration work that will rivet children to the pages. It starts and ends on the endpapers so don’t miss those! Ages 3 and up.

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