Posted in early readers, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, poetry, recipes, tagged birds, book reviews, botany, children's literature, gardening, Michelle Obama, nature, photography, picture books, plants, ponds, robins, seeds, spring, wildlife on April 10, 2017|
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My stack of books today glows budding-leaf green and robin’s-egg blue. Oh, what is as cheery and hopeful as spring? Soak up some gladness with these books, bursting with life, growth and new beginnings.
What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
For the littlest crop of sweet potatoes, don’t miss this sweet ode to seeds. Susie Ghahremani’s lovely artwork sweeps across the pages with luscious hues of springtime, summer, fall, straight through to the blue-cold of winter. Along the way we peek at seeds — round wrinkly peas, stripey sunflower seeds, snug prickly pine seeds packed into a cone — and discover what will grow from them.
Jennifer Ward’s minimal text provides just the right, lilting clues. She cleverly describes each seed with just three or four words, wisely choosing not to weigh down the delight and wonder of the illustrations.
A few gatefolds along the way augment the thrill of discovery –such fun to see that tall sunflower stretching up-up-up! End pages tell how to sow each of the seeds mentioned. This is a beauty of a book to enjoy with ages 18 months and up.
Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books
Gliding along the quiet waters of a pond, observing the burble of life above the surface and the secret worlds below comes this elegant book.
The third collaboration between Messner and Neal, it’s as visually striking and wonder-filled as their previous titles which I’ve reviewed here and here.
Messner’s text revels in the jeweled glory of this watery world with skittering whirligig beetles, mussy busy beavers, ghostly-quiet herons a-stalking, and all the shimmering, dappled light. Neal’s handsome artwork captures the hush, the aqua-depths, the muck and reeds and secretive small worlds. Ingenuous changes in perspective keep every page fresh.
I’m thrilled that he places an African-American boy and mom in this wild, out-of-doors setting. Far too little diversity in children’s literature occurs outside of urban settings.
Learn more about each one of the species presented in several pages of Author’s Notes. I have to say, as a boating enthusiast, I was bugged by the paddling faux pas here, but truly, this is another winner from this team for ages 3 and up.
Robins!: How They Grow Up, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
published in 2017 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A couple of robin siblings narrate the story of their lives in this information-soaked, immensely-engaging book from one of the best picture book makers, Eileen Christelow.
From the migration north of their parents, through nest-building, egg-incubating, and all the care and feeding of those scraggly chicks, Christelow’s text brims with intriguing detail, perfect pacing, and the appealing voice of these young robins. This reads like a story — not a mite of dry, merely-factual tone.
Christelow tracks their growth as they leave the nest, learn to feed themselves, and at about five months of age take to the skies to fly south. True to the realities of nature, two of their fellow nestmates don’t make it that far. Those harsh episodes are taken in stride by Christelow. It’s a fabulous presentation.
Colorful, captivating watercolor illustrations dominate the pages, bringing us eye to beak with these awkward chicks, right into the nest as it were. An Author’s Note tells how Christelow became so enamored with these birds, plus there’s a glossary and a couple Q&A pages with more Robin Facts. A gem for ages 4 and up.
Plants Can’t Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press
The ravishing colors of Minneapolis-artist (woot!) Mia Posada’s cut paper collages are the first thing you’ll notice when you open this book and oh! they will enchant you!
The fresh-lime burst of green leaves, blushing apricot tulips, twilight-purple morning glories, the seductive red of berries lurking in the bushes — every page surges with color, texture, and beauty.
Rebecca Hirsch’s text is every bit as enticing because although you may think of plants as sitting still, rooted in place, Hirsch leads us on a waltz of discovering otherwise. In fact, plants squirm, creep, climb, snap, nod, tumble, fling, whirl, drift…why, they just can’t sit still!
Back pages tell lots, lots more about plants and the particular species discussed in this book. Genius concept, brilliantly carried out by this team. Full of the wonder of discovery for ages 2 and up.
Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge
This charming early-reader knocked my socks off and warmed my heart. I don’t know if Rebecca Bond plans any more adventures for these too, but I have my fingers crossed!
The freshness of a spring morning has put Pig in a fine mood. A glorious sun and clear blue sky will do that! “Goody gumdrops!” Pig exclaims, and immediately makes plans for a picnic by the pond.
Pig soon meets up with Goose whose magnificent flying and swimming abilities make her wilt a bit with envy. Goose tries to coach Pig in these goose-y skills but…pigs really aren’t built for such things. Poor Pig! What is it she can do well?
Many things, it turns out, as she hosts a superb First-Day-0f-Spring party! Wow! You will want to be Pig’s guest at her next fiesta I’ll bet! Delectable details, spritzes of beauty, good humor, gladness of heart, and a dear friendship — that’s what’s here. Bond’s fetching watercolor work is the cherry on top. Readers who can manage Frog and Toad can read this on their own, or share it with listeners as young as 3. Lovely!
Wake Up! words by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
published in 2017 by Candlewick
This is the latest collaboration for poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Each one provides a breathtaking pause from the cacophony of noise, the jungles of cement, a step away, a redirect of our gaze towards the glorious spectacle of nature. All done in whisper quiet.
Feast your eyes and soul on the magenta swoosh of a peony, the emerald wetness of a frog, the fuzzy warmth of a newborn lamb. Wake up to manifestations of new life “exploding outside your door!”
I love the work being done by this team, simply bringing children up close to the wonders of nature, quieting them with few words, thoughtful questions, enticing them to wander out of doors. Find my reviews of two of their other titles here and here. Share them all with ages 18 months and older.
Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland
published in 2017 by Holiday House
Michael Garland’s arresting woodcuts adorn the pages of this book and captivate us with the extraordinary wonder of bird nests.
Minimal text describes some of the vast variety in construction from a hummingbird’s tiny woven cup, to the giant mounds made by flamingos, and one house sparrow’s nest lodged in the pocket of a stop light.
The bulk of what we learn comes via Garland’s handsome prints, flooding the pages with earthy colors and rich texture. I love the minimal interference between the child reader and these wonders of nature. No back pages, even, with more info. Just — soak in the craftsmanship of both bird and artist. A lovely, leisurely wander for ages 3 and up.
First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2011 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Children earnestly digging in the soil. Heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson. Beehives and ladybugs, eggplants and blueberries. But no beets!
The story of Michelle Obama’s gardening initiative dances with the joy of the earth’s fruitfulness, the brilliance of children learning by digging, sowing, weeding, harvesting, and cooking delicious food in the White House kitchen!
Add in the history of White House gardening down through the centuries from John Adams’ first vegetable and fruit gardens through Patricia Nixon’s garden tours. Sprinkle atop some delicious recipes to try straight from the White House. Then illustrate with Robbin Gourley’s sunny, vivacious watercolors. Ta da! You’ve concocted this delicious book!
A delight to share with ages 4 and up. Plus, you can discover why there are no beets!
There are lots more spring-y titles listed in my Subject Guide. Look under Science: Seasons. And Happy Springtime to one and all!
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Posted in fiction, picture books, recipes, tagged bacon, book reviews, breakfast, children's literature, funny stoires, pancakes, picture books, waffles on March 6, 2017|
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Grab your oatmeal and orange juice. Flip some flapjacks. Spread some peanut butter on that toast. And while you’re munching, go bananas with these silly breakfast stories!
Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2016 by Carolrhoda Books
Duluth-author (hooray!) Chris Monroe’s busy monkey, Chico Bon Bon, is back with his epic tool belt!
Chico’s buddy Clark is making giant pancakes for breakfast and things have gone completely lulu in a hot minute. Serious structural damage is happening in the kitchen courtesy of Clark’s bad aim and his ultra-dense pancakes!
Not to worry. Chico’s tool-belt apron is loaded with everything from a pickle squeezer to a tofu toggle and he’s ready to step in and help. However, even as Chico cleans up a bit here and welds a bit there, Clark has moved along to the next item on the menu, his supersecret blueberry muffins.
This time, actual explosions result!
Watch the pandemonium unfold, cheer as Chico’s brilliant problem-solving ability comes to the rescue, then use the recipes in the book to make your own delish breakfast treats, hopefully without any of the accompanying mayhem!
An uproarious delight for ages 2 and up.
The Worst Breakfast, written by China Miéville, illustrated by Zak Smith
published in 2016 by Black Sheep Books
China Miéville is a British author known for his outstanding fantasy novels, including Un Lun Dun which I reviewed here. I believe this is his first picture book. And it’s a doozy.
Two sisters are about to eat breakfast when they discover to their distress that the orange juice today has got “bits.” Pulp, if you will, that doesn’t go down well at all.
This spurs one sister to regale the other about the worst breakfast ever, a hideous affair of burnt toast, “severely underdone” eggs, gluey porridge…and a wild, tongue-twisting inventory of dozens more terrifying menu items! Jellied eels and salmagundi and rumbledethumps…oh my!
There is grossness and nastiness here by the bowlful, illustrated with frenetic, fantastical abandon by Zak Smith.
All is resolved in one simple, clever solution and the breakfast turns out to be pretty good after all. My guess is this book will turn the stomachs of a few and result in fiendish giggles for many others. Check it out for ages 3 and up and prepare to serve pulp-free OJ for awhile.
Woodpecker Wants a Waffle, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
published in 2016 by Harper Collins
Benny the woodpecker awakes one morning to a wonderful, “tummy-rumbling” smell wafting out from Moe’s “Home of the Hot Waffle Breakfast” grand opening.
Well, if you smelled some toasty warm waffles, you’d want a nibble, wouldn’t you? Benny certainly does, but try as he might, he can’t manage to sneak inside Moe’s restaurant. Woodpeckers, it seems, are not wanted!
Benny takes his dilemma to a gathering of forest friends who initially mock his taste in waffles, but come around to conspire with him in carrying out his stupefying, spectacular solution. It’s a genius move on Benny’s part, full of last-minute twists that’ll surprise and delight you!
Steve Breen is a fantastic storyteller. This one is dripping with good humor and maple syrup. Sure to please kids ages 3 and up, with a side dish of waffles, of course.
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
published in 2015 by Sterling Children’s Books
“Deep in the fridge and behind the green peas,
way past the tofu and left of the cheese,
up in the corner, and back by a roast,
sat Lady Pancake beside Sir French Toast.”
The contents of a refrigerator might seem to be a placid lot, but not in this tale! These two friends turn into fierce competitors when it’s discovered — horrors! — that there’s only a single drop of syrup left! And both of them want it for themselves.
A galloping, careening race is on, up Potato Mash Mountain and through Chili Lagoon. Rappelling down linguini, sailing through soup, parachuting via lettuce leaf, these two run amok in an all-out sprint to that maple syrup bottle. Only to make a shocking discovery!
Josh Funk knows exactly how to tickle kids’ funny bones with his dancing rhyme, while Brendan Kearney’s energized, anthropomorphic fruits and veggies, broccoli forests and stinky Brussels sprouts rocket the mayhem up deliciously. A second episode featuring all these same foody-friends comes out this year, The Case of the Stinky Stench. Read this one with ages 3 and up, and get in line for the sequel.
Everyone Loves Bacon, written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Eric Wight
published in 2015 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Everyone loves bacon, and ol’ Mr. Bacon feels mighty smug about that. A bit hoity-toity. Lovin’ all that attention, you know.
As his celebrity star rises, Mr. Bacon becomes so obsessed with himself, he quite forgets his old friends back home. Who needs ’em? Bah! He’s got fans, my dear, fans!
Pride goeth before a fall, as the old proverb says, and in this case, Mr. Bacon finds out a bit too late that when everyone loves bacon…well…he’s just one mouthful away from a most startling finish!
Wight’s bold food portraits and that strutting Mr. Bacon blast off the pages in jazzy, retro style. A cautionary delight for ages 3 and up.
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Posted in non-fiction, picture books, recipes, tagged biosphere 2, book reviews, children's literature, climate change, cooking, earth day, ecology, environmentalism, fossil fuels, honey bees, nature, picture books, science, wildlife on April 18, 2016|
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Earth Day is coming up this week. I hope you take the opportunity to marvel at the wonderland around us and resolve to learn more about proper stewardship of this precious, interconnected home of ours.
For those of you in the Twin Cities, I’d also like to draw your attention to a lecture co-sponsored by the MacLaurin Institute and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Dr. Katherine Hayhoe will be speaking on “Climate Change: Facts, Fictions, and the Christian Faith” on Thursday, April 21. You can find out more details at the link here.
I’ve got a whole stack of excellent books today. I’ll proceed in order from least to most technical, and end with a gorgeous new cookbook to inspire all of us!
This is the Earth, by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander, paintings by Wendell Minor
published in 2016 by Harper
Wendell Minor’s magnificent paintings are the first thing you’ll notice in this gorgeous survey of the eons of life on Earth. Wall-to-wall color embraces us beginning with the clean, unspoiled beauty of savanna, river, and sky, explosive with wildlife, plant life, sparkling water, pure air.
As humans make homes and lives for themselves and increasingly subject the land to industrial spoilage and environmental damage, the pictures are not so gladsome. But the story doesn’t end there. The authors continue their poetic account of our interactions with Earth into the present, when better care-taking is practiced and begins to heal the planet.
It’s a tender, beautiful appeal towards greener living that is perfect for children ages 3 or 4 and up — the ideal time to begin forming sustainable habits.
Nature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder on Your Doorstep, by Kay Maguire, illustrated by Danielle Kroll
published in 2016 by Wide Eyed Editions
UK botanist Kay Maguire and Brooklyn-based artist Danielle Kroll have teamed up to create this lavish, beautiful guide to nature lore through the seasons. As with every Wide Eyed Edition, the production quality is impeccable. Everything is lovely!
Each season hosts its own glories, and they’re parceled out here in tidbits of information and charming, fresh illustrations. Learn about the fascinating Dawn Chorus of springtime. Investigate the vegetable garden in summer. Snoop in the autumnal leaf litter to see what’s lurking there. Check for surprising signs of life in wintertime. And so much more!
80 over-sized pages of beauty and wonder to meander through again and again. An inspiration for gardening, nature walks, trips to the farmer’s market, and appreciation for the natural world. Ages 4 and up.
Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2014 by Blue Sky Press
This is the fourth book in Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm’s fascinating series on sunlight. What an astounding star that sun of ours is!
Here they explain how oil, coal, and gas — fossil fuels — were formed, like tiny treasure chests with precious supplies of energy from the sun trapped inside of them, then buried deep in the earth.
And how, fairly recently, humans discovered those treasure chests and unlocked their potential by burning them to power our world. And how the rapidity of our use of these fossil fuels is affecting Earth’s climate like never before due to the enormous release of carbon dioxide that is occurring.
I am not a scientist. But Penny Chisholm is an MIT professor and Molly Bang has an uncanny knack of writing these complex facts in accessible language that even I can understand! This book has been vetted by my dear son, a PhD student in Environmental Microbiology, and some of his environmental cohorts and gets all thumbs up. Grab it to share with kids ages 5 or 6 and up. You adults will benefit from it, too!
A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife, by Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
published in 2012 by Charlesbridge
I suspect most of us have heard about the difficulties polar bears are having in the arctic with the changes in the duration of sea ice which decrease the length of their hunting season.
But what about the impact of climate change on penguins and walruses. On butterflies and fish? The interconnectedness of the natural world is explained in a nature-notebook format in this informative book. You will learn how changes that affect plant life, water temperature, and ice conditions, go on to impact a wide collection of animals.
With its succinct, clear, text and appealing illustrations geared to kids ages 7 and up this book shows some of the furry and feathered reasons we work to limit climate change.
What’s the Buzz?:Keeping Bees in Flight, by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers
Author Merrie-Ellen Wilcox loves bees and raises them in six hives at her British Columbia home. Her enthusiasm for this hard-working insect shines through in this book that covers all things Bee.
Learn about the amazing bee, its life, work, and hive-home. Discover the astoundingly-huge job bees do as pollinators for enormous amounts of crops — apples, almonds, blueberries and more — that we eat every day, as well as the way they aid other species such as bears and fish. Find out all about the delicious honey bees produce and the many ways honey and beeswax benefit us.
Finally, and sadly, learn the enormous problems bees face today. This will come as no surprise to most of you, but oh, it is distressing! How can you become a Bee-Friendly Kid? A number of realistic steps are listed here which makes this book one of the most practical of the batch today. We can make a difference! Highly-accessible writing and lots of color photographs make this a great read for ages 9 and up.
Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass, by Mary Kay Carson, photographs by Tom Uhlman
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The ability to conduct controlled experiments in the great outdoors is enormously difficult, obviously. So many variables complicate the findings.
Enter Biosphere 2, a massive, glass-enclosed structure containing an amazingly-devised rain forest, desert ocean (yes, you’ll find out what that is), savannah, hillsides of soil, and teams of cool scientists researching important questions.
How do rainforests respond to ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide? How will climate change alter the acidity of water and what difference does that make? How are Earth’s landscapes reshaped by climate change? What’s the best way to harvest rainfall?
This lengthy account is superbly written and documented for budding science enthusiasts who are chomping at the bit to take their place among the people asking these questions, devising experiments to find answers, and developing policies for the long-term good of Earth-dwellers. Thorough and intriguing for ages 11 to adult.
The Forest Feast For Kids, by Erin Gleeson
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
A couple of years ago, Erin Gleeson published her bestselling cookbook, The Forest Feast. Lavishly decorated with her lovely watercolor illustrations and filled with simple, fresh, vegetarian recipes, it charmed the socks off of everybody.
Now, with the same touch of beauty and simplicity, she’s written an edition for kids. And it is sooo lovely! Look, here are the end-papers:
The pages of this book are bursting with gorgeous, full-color photos. Recipes with hand-lettering and watercolor flourishes cover everything from Pomegranate Hot Cider to Butternut Quesadillas and Plum Tartlets. All of them contain only a few, simple ingredients. Here is food that is a feast for the eyes as well as the palette. Food prepared as a gift of love and care. An artistic endeavor in which we appreciate the colors, textures, and flavors of fresh food.
A beautiful choice for boys and girls ages 7 and up. It would make quite a good birthday gift, I think!
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Posted in graphic novels, recipes, tagged book reviews, children's literature, dessert, graphic novels, illustrated novels, middle grade fiction, Moscow, robots, science-fiction, substance abuse on March 14, 2016|
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To be honest, I often feel overwhelmed gazing at the graphic novel section of my library. So many superheroes! So many ninjas! There’s nothing wrong with these. They just aren’t my cup of tea. However, I have found a number of graphic novels with quite a different voice, and besides being a delight for reluctant readers, they are a fabulous genre for anyone to explore. Here are four I’ve read recently and enjoyed, plus one illustrated novel:
Little Robot, by Ben Hatke
published in 2015 by First Second
I wouldn’t have guessed I’d call a robot book “sweet,” but this one is! It’s tender and daring. Darling and hair-raising. And it stars a resourceful, friendly little gal, her diminutive robot friend, and some handy tools.
From Little Robot’s first wobbly steps, he and the little girl who discovers him are on quite a journey together, exploring what friendship looks like between such different persons.
When a gang of giant, creepy robots pursue them, their friendship, bravery, and loyalty save the day . It’s a thoroughly-satisfying, enjoyable story, for ages 8 and up.
Bake Sale, by Sara Varon
published in 2011 by First Second
Any story starring a cupcake is worth at least a second look, right?
Sara Varon is a delightful storyteller with an uncomplicated, friendly drawing style.
Cupcake runs the Sweet Tooth Bakery with panache. He dearly loves to create awesome confections for his patrons.
When Cupcake’s good friend, Eggplant, announces that he’s traveling to Istanbul to visit his Aunt Aubergine, and when Cupcake discovers that this aunt is a long-time friend of Super-Chef Turkish Delight — Cupcake’s dream-goddess-chef-hero! — he begins furiously working to make enough money to travel along.
It’s a delightful story, and as a delicious bonus, a number of Cupcake’s Sweet Tooth recipes are included so you can make Raspberry Squares, Peppermint Brownies, and more. A treat for ages 8 and up.
Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke
published in 2010 by First Second
Zita and her friend Joseph are blasted into another world at the outset of this sci-fi adventure, the first of an extremely popular trilogy by Ben Hatke.
Joseph is immediately seized by a grim creature, all diving helmet and scurrilous tentacles. It’s up to Zita to navigate the new species, mechanisms, and dangers of this place, find Joseph, and get them both safely back home. Can she do it?
If anyone can, it’s the intrepid Zita! It’s a thrill a minute, with explosions, humor, and a heap of loyal friendship, sure to win the hearts of readers, ages 9 and up.
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, with color by Lark Pien
published in 2015 by Graphix
With this novel, we move from riotous space adventure to a poignant story of family, brokenness, and healing, based on the childhoods of brother-sister team, Jennifer and Matthew Holm.
It’s 1976, Sunny is 10 years old, and she’s heading to Florida to spend some time with Grandpa. That sounds idyllic, right? Disney World. Beaches. Sun. Ice Cream Cones. But that isn’t what’s in store for her. Grandpa lives in a retirement village with a bunch of batty old women and their cats. And he thinks Disney World is a tourist trap.
As the weeks roll by, Sunny navigates this new pace of life, meets a new friend named Buzz, discovers superhero comics, rescues a lot of cats, and processes some painful, confusing memories from home. Concurrently, she discovers that masks, duplicity, and alter-egos can be tremendously hurtful, and both she and Grandpa learn that telling the truth can be a freeing proposition.
A remarkable story addressing the pain of a loved one with substance abuse issues, with a lovely, personal note to readers from the authors. Ages 10 and up.
A Year Without Mom, by Dasha Tolstikova
published in 2015 by Groundwood Books
Finally, this poignant, spare, illustrated novel set in 1990s Moscow. It’s not a graphic novel, but it’s so heavily illustrated that it sort of defies categorization.
Dasha is a 12-year-old girl whose mother is moving to the U.S. to study in a master’s program. Dasha will be left behind, living with her grandparents, and navigating an entire year without her mom. Nobody asks her if this sounds like a good idea.
Friendships. School. Growing up. Exploring new identities. All of this is hard enough to handle with a mom at your side, but it feels overwhelming to Dasha.
As the year progresses, Dasha comes into her own, starts to feel comfortable in her new independence. So what happens when Mom comes back? And what happens when she wants to take Dasha with her to America?
It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking book, offering a window into Russian culture as well as the universal bond between daughters and mothers. The hushed, mostly monochromatic pages, splashed with cherry red, are gripping and lovely, with compositions and portraits that brilliantly reveal personality and powerful emotions. I truly enjoyed this book. Ages 11 through adult.
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