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Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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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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.

Cuba

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.

Haiti

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.

Montserrat

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.

Mexico

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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Every problem…

“So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end…and in between Bear felt himself getting slenderer and slenderer.”

… has a solution.

Check out the surprising solutions in these great stories.

Another Way to Climb a Tree, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
published in 2017, a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

Problem: Lulu, whose joy in life is climbing preposterously tall trees, is sick. Gazing out her window at those unapproachable branches, she makes a sorry figure indeed.

Solution: A miracle of light and shadow present a remarkable possibility to Lulu that spreads sunshine to her and readers alike. Hadley Hooper’s divine retro prints bring such class and comfort to these pages. A tiny slice-of-life that’s surprisingly inspiring. Ages 2 and up.

The Knish War on Rivington Street, written by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Jon Davis
published in 2017 by Albert Whitman and Company

Problem: Benny’s mama, Molly,  bakes the most delicious knishes on Rivington Street. Flaky pastry parcels, plum full of kasha, cheese, and potatoes. Yummm. But Mr. & Mrs. Tisch set up shop right across the street with loud signs selling her famous fried knishes at a penny less than Molly’s! This can only mean one thing: war!

Solution: With prices a-tumbling, brass bands a-tootling, angry voices arguing…what can be done to restore peace and friendship to Rivington Street? Find out, plus bake your own batches of Molly’s and Mrs. Tisch’s knishes and pick your favorite! Ages 4 and up.

Counting with Tiny Cat, written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Problem: One playful and, shall we say, overconfident cat encounters way more balls of red yarn than he’s prepared for! Yikes!

Solution: Napping. And let’s face it, isn’t that often the best solution?! Darling mayhem, graphic brilliance, a hoot for ages 18 months and up.

Dogosaurus Rex, written by Anna Staniszewski, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

Problem: The dog Ben brings home from the shelter, name of Sadie, seems…uh…quite strange for a dog. Smashingly large. Ravenously hungry. Possibly entirely too much trouble?

Solution: Sadie saves her own neck by proving that a burly body and powerful hunger can come in pretty handy under the right circumstances! Humor and adventure in a sort-of second generation Clifford the Dog scenario, for ages 3 and up.

You Must Bring a Hat!, written by Simon Philip, illustrated by Kate Hindley
published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2017

Problem: One young lad receives an invitation to the snazziest party ever. The directive says he must bring a hat. And try to be on time. The problems he encounters in fulfilling that decree and a whole botheration of addendums to it — phew! Enough to try the patience of a saint!

Solution: Would you believe monkeys, monocles, and piano-playing badgers are all preludes to a most surprising, easy-pie solution ushering us into the liveliest of parties? You better hold onto your hats for this silly caper. A jolly spot of nonsense for ages 2 and up.

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¡Hola!  Olá!   K’ulaj!

We’ve finally crossed the Atlantic and made our way to the Americas. Today we’re reading about life in Central and South America. But first — we have a winner in our West African book giveaway! Congrats to Jackie Lannin! Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com to give me your shipping address.

There is incredible diversity within the vast areas of Latin America. A mighty gulf between the wealthy and the millions of street kids, for example. A swirl of ancestries and languages. Glittering cities, snowcapped mountains, dense rainforest, bleak deserts. Yet this diversity is not particularly well-represented in children’s literature.  

Santiago de Chile, Chile

By far the most common subject for books set in these countries — I thought for awhile it was the only thing I would find! — is Carnival.

An exuberant focus, to be sure. But I had to dig to find stories centered on other aspects of life. Given the richness of these cultures, I was frankly astonished by what was not available.

Except for Guatemala. What is it with Guatemala?! I found more books set there by far than any other location. Had to bump some of them out, just to keep things somewhat balanced. Curious.

Meanwhile, fasten your seat belt and we’ll start off in…

Belize

Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play, written and photographed by Rachel Crandell
published in 2002 by Henry Holt and Co.

There are many peoples within the Mayan population. This photo-essay shows us a group of Mopan Mayan from Belize.

Move through a typical day and see the many tasks keeping “the hands of the Maya” busy. Toting firewood, cooking up tortillas, roofing , sowing maize, scrubbing, weaving, carving, making music, and comforting children. Beautiful photography brings us right up close to the uniquenesses of this people and place. It’s a lovely choice for even very young children, ages 2 and up.

Guatemala

Rainbow Weaver, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, translation by Eida de la Vega
published in 2016 by Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books

High in the Guatemalan mountains, a young Mayan girl named Ixchel yearns to be a weaver like her mother and grandmothers and neighbor ladies and their great-grandmothers before them. For thousands of years, Mayan women have woven magnificent cloth in vibrant colors and distinctive, intricate patterns on backstrap looms.

But there’s not enough thread to spare for a little girl like Ixchel. So, she improvises. And what she winds up with is quite a winning discovery! This is a sweet story, told in both Spanish and English, illustrated in a fetching Disney-esque style. An Author’s Note tells more about the Mayan weavers, and a pronunciation guide helps with the Mayan words. Like Ixchel, for example! Great read for ages 4 and up.

Abuela’s Weave, written by Omar S. Castañeda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez
published in 1993 by Lee & Low

Here’s another look at the weavers of Guatemala. Esperanza’s abuela is one of the most superb weavers around, whose tapestries could “pull the wonder right out of people.” But she fears that the new, machine-made tapestries will outshine her traditional, handcrafted ones, and Esperanza knows that her abuela’s birthmark has made some people begin terrible rumors about her.

That makes heading to market for the Fiesta de Pueblos in Guate a nerve-wracking journey. What special weaving have Abuela and Esperanze been working so hard at? Will customers be frightened by Abuela’s birthmark? Can their handwork stand out in that crowded marketplace?

This is a quieter story than Rainbow Weaver, but equally warm, with really lovely illustrations and more references to the culture and geography of Guatemala. If you can find a copy, share it with ages 5 and up.

Un barrilete para el Dia de los Muertos/Barrilete: A Kite for the Day of the Dead, written by Elisa Amado, Photographs by Joya Haris
published in 1999 by Groundwood Books

This fascinating photo-essay follows a boy named Juan  who lives in the small village of Santiago Sacatepéquez, famous for creating some of the largest kites in the world to celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 2.  Witness the construction of these extraordinary creations via the candid photos and lucid, respectful depictions of life in this small corner of the world.

Giant kites of Santiago!

I have to say that the cover does not prepare you for the elegant story within. I wasn’t expecting to love this, but I was smitten! Share it with slightly older children with patience for a slice-of-life photo essay. Perhaps ages 5 or 6 and up.

Mama and Papa Have a Store, written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
published in 1998 by Lee & Low Books

In 1938, as the Japanese invaded their village in Guangdong, China, one young couple fled and settled in Guatemala City. There they established a dry goods store, selling everything from paper lanterns to perfume to rows and rows of colorful threads “arranged like schools of fish in glassy water.”

See what a typical day looks like from the vantage point of their little girl as the bean curd seller comes round with fresh tofu, Mama chops hot peppers for lunch, and her siblings wax the roof slates and slide down the slope on cardboard sleds! One of my favorite older titles, this won a Pura Belpré Honor for its exuberant, detailed watercolors. Ages 3 and up.

Sawdust Carpets, written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
published in 2005 by Groundwood Books

A second story by this same author casts a spotlight on the astonishing Easter processions in Antigua, Guatemala including the creation of beautiful, elaborate tapestries created from colored sawdust which line the streets.

Carling again tells this story from the point of view of her Chinese immigrant family whose Buddhist heritage melds with the Catholicism of the Guatemalan people during this Holy Week. It’s a fantastic, appealing window onto a famous tradition. Ages 4 and up.

El Salvador

The Fiesta of the Tortillas, written by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by María Jesús Álvarez, translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco
published in 2006 by Alfaguara

You’d better not be hungry when you read this book, I’m warning you.

In this apparently semi-autobiographical tale, Koki lives with his family in a house that holds a comedor as restaurants are called in El Salvador. The comedor bustles with aunts and cousins chopping, mixing, and frying mouthwatering tortillas, papusas, fried bananas, grilled beef, all so tasty that people keep coming back for more and more. I am not surprised! Yum.

There’s a strange little mystery going on in the comedor, though, that’s got everybody a bit hot under the collar just now. Honestly, the resolution to that mystery is a tad vague here, but the joy of family and the delicious Salvadoran cooking that sing in this story are quite enough to make up for that.

Spanish and English versions of the story are both here, along with colorful collaged illustrations. A great book to read with ages 4 and up, right before going out for some Salvadoran food!

Panama

Hands of the Rain Forest: The Emberá People of Panama, written and photographed by Rachel Crandell
published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company

The Emberá are an indigenous people of Panama whose lives have been intricately linked to the rain forest and its rich resources for centuries. Since the 1970s some have been displaced from the jungle by the government and resettled in villages along the Sambú River. Modernity has impacted their lives, yet many of their traditional skills are maintained.

Visit these villages, glimpse their craftsmanship, and gain more appreciation for the immense variety of homes and lifestyles loved by people on our planet. This is a respectful photo essay that will surely astound children ages 4 and up.

Venezuela

The Streets Are Free, written by Kurusa, illustrations by Monika Doppert, translation by Karen Englander
first published in 1981 in Venezuela; first North American edition 1985 by Annick Press

Based on the true story of the children of the barrio of San José de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela, who longed for playground space for themselves in the midst of the slum that engulfed them, this unusual story reveals the way rural areas degrade into urban shantytowns, the toll this takes on children’s lives, and the determined spirit of one particular group of Venezuelan kids.

Exceptional illustrations convey life in the barrio with respect and realism. Fantastic read for slightly older children, ages 7 and up.

Columbia

Biblioburro

A tropical-colored, true story of one book-loving man who goes to tremendous lengths to bring books to children in remote villages, far from any library. Heroic, beautiful, inspiring. My full review of it is here. A lovely read for ages 2 and up.

Juana and Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Pure delight, this short chapter book follows spunky Juana, a good dog, her warm family, and her grandfather’s special reward for Juana’s progress in learning that tricky language, English. This is an absolutely delightful read. 89 pages. Read it aloud or hand it to a stout reader who can handle a sprinkling of Spanish.

Saturday Sancocho, written and illustrated by Leyla Torres
published in 1995 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Chicken Sancocho is a mouthwatering stew prepared throughout Central and South America. In this story, Maria Lili and her grandparents find themselves without the money to buy sancocho ingredients. And that is a major disappointment!

Mama Ana has just the clever solution, however. With Maria Lili in tow, off they go to the market for a day of sunny bartering at one stall after another. By day’s end they’ve got a basket of all the right stuff — plantains and cassava, corn and carrots, tomatoes and cilantro and garlic and cumin; and yes, even chicken for the pot.

The sunny illustrations and delicious storyline here will make you determined to cook up some sancocho for yourselves, and there is a recipe in the book. Happy and lovely, for ages 4 and up.

Brazil

Amazon Boy, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin
published in 1993 by Macmillan Publishing Company

I was really surprised how difficult it is to find books that portray contemporary Brazil. If any of you know of great stories depicting Rio or other Brazilian locations, please let us know in the comments!

This book is slightly outdated, and I’m not so fond of the title. Ted Lewin’s always-lovely watercolor work makes up for a lot, though. Pedro lives deep in the Amazon jungle with his family who make a living by fishing. This story recounts Pedro’s first trip downriver to the port of Belém. The incredible density of the rainforest and the bustle of the harbor, the flat out amazing fish and the unique life Pedro lives, all captivate and expand our understanding of the many ways people live in our world. As a plus, Lewin connects the way destructive environmental practices impact the lives of these jungle-dwellers. A fascinating story for ages 4 and up.

Peru

Up and Down the Andes: A Peruvian Festival Tale, written by Laurie Krebs, illustration by Aurélia Fronty
published in 2008 by Barefoot Books

In June, the city of Cusco, Peru hosts Inti Raymi, an ancient Incan festival honoring the Sun God, with thousands of costumed actors re-enacting the ancient pageantry. Journey along with children from up and down the Andes Mountains as they make their way by bus, mule, boat, and take their places in the celebration.

Short, rhythmic text; lively, spicy-warm illustrations; and backpages with more information on Peruvian festivals, history, peoples, and geography. Ages 3 and up.

Tonight is Carnaval, written by Arthur Dorros, illustrated with arpilleras sewn by the Club de Madres Virgen del Carmen of Lima, Peru
published in 1991 by Dutton Children’s Books

There are so many titles about celebrating Carnival (a number coming up in our Caribbean stop) that each one I’ve included had to earn its place! This one easily wins a spot on the to-read lists for its broader depiction of life in Peru and the extraordinary artwork that illustrates it.

Join one family living among the high Andes as they prepare fields for planting, tend llamas, spin and weave, harvest potatoes, go to market, and play the instruments that create the unique, lovely sounds we love from this region.

A cooperative of 35 women and 1 man quilted the fabulous pieces that illustrate this book. I have no idea if this cooperative is still at work. If someone knows, please tell us!

 You can read about the fantastic work they were about on the flyleaf of the book.  Great choice for ages 5 and up.

Maria Had a Little Llama, written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company

An immensely charming, bilingual rendition of the old nursery rhyme, set in the Andes mountains, with illustrations to knock your socks off. Perfect for ages 2 and up.

Paraguay

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, written by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Here’s a moving story about a population of children who live among the trash heaps in Cateura, Paraguay. Surrounded by garbage, noise, and stink, these kids and their parents still love the beauty of music.

Discover how kindness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and hard work resulted in remarkable musical opportunities for them in this extraordinary, true account. Comport’s striking illustrations are a joyful, strong pairing for the story. An Author’s Note tells more of the details, and further exploration can be done via listed websites and videos. Inspirational, for ages 5 through adult.

Argentina

Abuelo

This handsomely-illustrated story features a marvelous grandfather-grandson relationship in their home on the vast, clear pampas. What a life! There’s heartache when the boy has to move to the city, which is softened by his abuelo’s wisdom. This is an absolute stunner. Read my full review here.

On the Pampas, written and illustrated by María Cristina Brusca
published in 1991 by Henry Holt and Company

This delightful picture book memoir of growing up in Argentina follows María as she spends one summer at her grandparents’ estancia on the vast, flat prairies, the pampas. She and her cousin, Susanita, live an open-air, free, robust life, riding horses, swimming in the creek, learning to lasso from the gauchos,  bellying up to grandmother’s enormous noon meals, sneaking ñandú eggs from furious male ñandús!  

Oh my word — what a fantastic, adventurous time! Vivid watercolors set us in the midst of this hearty scene. Ages 3 and up.

Our next stop will take us just a bit north to the Caribbean and Mexico. I hope you’ll join us!

Here are links to our previous destinations:

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

 

Read Full Post »

We’re heading north from Australia to reach the eastern portion of Asia this week. What a treasure trove of ancient, rich cultures mingle in this area!

I found that a significant portion of stories connected with these countries focus on folks who have come to the United States. Korean-Americans, for example. Vietnamese refugees.  Chinese immigrants. Great books, but my search is for books set in Asia itself. We are touring the world, after all! So none of those appear in my lists. 

I’m also focused on the world of today, rather than accounts of ancient civilizations or folktales. This makes the pickings quite a bit slimmer! But if you want a mostly-current window into the lives children live in East Asia, you’ll do well with these titles. 

INDONESIA

All About Indonesia: Stories, Songs and Crafts for Kids, written by Linda Hibbs
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

You’ll see the name of Tuttle Publishing a lot when it comes to stories from Asia as that is their entire focus, and how glad we are for that! The All About Asia series contains lots of child-friendly information about areas that are sometimes underrepresented on our library shelves, and that includes Indonesia.

Visit Jakarta as well as small villages. Check out mountains and coasts. Learn about music, dance, and sport. Try some Indonesian words and foods. Loaded with photographs and illustrations and parceled out in sections just right for exploring a bit at a time, this is a great way to get to know this island nation.

I is for Indonesia, by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Eddie Hara
published in 2013 by Things Asian Press

I haven’t actually seen this book but from what I can glimpse on-line it looks like a funky, off-beat tour of Indonesia! With wild and wooly illustrations from the inventive Indonesian artist, Eddie Hara, you definitely are not in for a placid, run-of-the-mill deal here.

If I could get one from my library, I would definitely give it a whirl, especially for slightly older children, say ages 5 and up, who like their meatballs with a little sriracha sauce. 

Rice Is Life, written by Rita Golden Gelman, illustrated by Yangsook Choi
published in 2000 by Henry Holt and Company

Life in Bali revolves around rice. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice fields, called sawah, are the pivot point of the calendar as preparation, planting, tending, and harvesting happen year after year.

Rita Gelman captures the rhythms, the poetry, the beauty of Bali’s rice fields as well as the fascinating particulars of fishing for dragonflies, herding ducks, and making offerings to the rice goddess. Illustrations glow with the emerald rice, and convey the grace of the Balinese people. Lovely and intriguing, for ages 4 and up.

Ayu and the Perfect Moon, written and illustrated by David Cox
published in 1984 by The Bodley Head

Follow the story of a young girl named Ayu who dreams of performing in the famous Balinese Legong dance.

As she watches the spectacular procession of giant puppets and masked dancers, Ayu is seized with a longing to join the other dancers to the accompaniment of the gamelan musicians. So she practices and practices until one propitious night when the moon is full, she’s decked out with magnificent clothing, crowned with gold and frangipani flowers, and dances the Legong. Gorgeous slice of Balinese life, rendered beautifully. An entrancing read for ages 2 and up.

The PHILIPPINES

All About the Philippines: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Gidget Roceles Jimenez, illustrated by Corazon Dandan-Albano
published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the series All About Asia, this book follows three Filipino cousins who come from different islands, ethnicities, and languages to showcase the diversity of this nation.

Get a taste of history, geography, language. Travel to Luzon, Cebu, and Mindanao. Learn about games and celebrations. Cook up some Filipino foods with the recipes included. There’s a lot packed in here to share with children ages 7 and up.

VIETNAM

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam 

Life in the highlands of Vietnam, among emerald rice fields, threatening tigers, and a beloved water buffalo is recalled in this gorgeously-written memoir. Read my full review here. A fantastic read-aloud for ages 6 and up.

CAMBODIA

The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, written by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Ronald Himler
published in 2001 by Holiday House

Ary is a little girl living among the crowded, smoky streets of Phnom Penh where she sells strings of flowers to help her family survive. She has heard about the endless green rice paddies beyond the city, lush with rainfall and sunlight, but her life has ever been hemmed in by hardness.

One day Ary takes her savings to the bird woman whose cage is filled with singing fragments of beauty. The bird woman takes her coins in exchange for the choice of one bird to set free, to soar with a wish to the heavens. Ary is elated at first,  but the bird has been trained to simply fly back to its cage, preferring food to freedom. Is there any way for Ari’s wishes to come true? A poignant story of a relatively hidden world, illustrated with tenderness and dignity. Ages 4 and up.

THAILAND

The Umbrella Queen

Head to northern Thailand and visit the markets where beautiful hand-painted umbrellas reign in this dear, beautifully illustrated story, reviewed here.


Hush: A Thai Lullaby

A handsomely illustrated story of one Thai mama trying to coax her baby to sleep. Great choice for the littlest travelers, under-two and up. My review is here

The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper, written and photographed by Richard Sobol
published in 2010 by Candlewick Press

Life in Thailand also centers on rice. Richard Sobol has written a fascinating account of the many festivals dedicated to rice, and the intriguing planting and harvesting traditions carried out in northeast Thailand. 

If you think the story of rice sounds dull, that’s because you have never attended the striking Royal Plowing Ceremony or met the royal white oxen, or seen the boldly painted combines used in Thailand. This is a story about the Thai people as much as about their beloved rice. Beautiful photographs by an award-winning photographer. Read it together with kids ages 6 and up.

I Am a Little Monk, written by Mi-hwa Joo, illustrated by Hwa-kyeong Gahng, English text edited by Joy Cowley
originally published in Korea; English edition published in 2015 by big & SMALL

Urt is a little boy who can’t seem to keep out of trouble. When he meets his uncle, a man who came back from his stay in the temple with such a “relaxed heart,” Urt decides that he too will devote himself to the practices of a monk for a time.

Meditation, care of the temple, going out to collect food, helping others, learning to share — these are all lessons Urt begins to learn through his time spent as a little monk. The brief story is lightly told and warmly illustrated. Much of the information will be gleaned from end pages which explain Thai greetings, nicknames, temples, festivals, and a bit more about the daily life of a monk. It’s great to see a children’s book touching on one of the most important aspects of Thai culture — Buddhism. Ages 3 and up.

All About Thailand: Stories, Songs, Crafts and Games for Kids, written by Elaine Russell, illustrated by Patcharee Meesukhon and Vinit Yeesman
published in 2016 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this colorful book leads us into four different regions of Thailand, hands us some Thai language with a link to hear these words spoken, introduces foods, arts, sports, games, celebrations, dances, music, shadow puppets and lots, lots more. These are terrific one-stop introductions to each country.

MYANMAR

I See the Sun in Myanmar, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese
published in 2013 by Satya House Publications

Follow one young girl through her day in a village near Mandalay in central Myanmar. From waking up to the sound of temple bells,  to the evening gathering around the household altar, Buddhist practices permeate her life. Myanmar is also a land of bullock carts, thanaka paste, the Irawaddy River, fish curry. The gentle, matter-of-fact narration of the day includes many intriguing details, while collage illustrations bring all these unknowns to life for us.

I love that the elegant Burmese script runs simultaneously on every page.  An afterword tells more about Myanmar for older readers and adults. The book itself is suited to ages 3 and up.

M is for Myanmar, written by Elizabeth Rush, illustrated by Khin Maung Myint
published in 2011 by ThingsAsian Kids

A colorful dip into Myanmar, this book is illustrated by an artist from Yangon, Myanmar, and has text in both English and the incredibly curly Burmese script. 

Catch a glimmer of the Shwedagon Pagoda, meander the emerald patchwork of rice fields, paddle across Inle Lake, taste Mohinga Noodle Soup. Lighthearted free verse, with illustrations filling in details. Colorful and upbeat, for ages 5 and up.

CHINA

One Year in Beijing, written by Xiaohong Wang, illustrated by Grace Lin, translated by Lei Li
published in 2006 by ChinaSprout Inc.

Ling Ling is 8 years old and lives in modern day Beijing. Her mom’s a teacher. Her dad works at a computer company. Follow the three of them through a typical year in their lives and learn what Ling Ling wants most for a New Year’s present, how to celebrate Qing Ming Festival, what mountain Ling Ling climbs with her family on their summer break, where they head to see brilliant maples in fall splendor, what special food is served on her birthday…great details of life in contemporary China.

Illustrated in a child-appealing style by Grace Lin, this is a great intro for children ages 5 and up, with lots more detail in the end pages about the foods, holidays, places, and traditions mentioned briefly in the text.

All About China: Stories Songs, Crafts and More for Kids, written by Allison “Aixin” Branscombe, illustrated by Lin Wang
published in 2014 by Tuttle Publishing

Part of the All About Asia series, this book’s title made me smile. Maybe “A Little About China” would be closer? Such a vast land, extremely diverse in its topography, climates, lifestyles, and ethnic minorities, is impossible to survey in one blast. Despite that, this is a great book, simply crammed with great information about China’s diversity, history, festivals, arts, belief systems, as well as details about home styles around China, chopstick etiquette, projects, recipes…cram jam, as I say.

One of the things I especially love about this book is its emphasis on contemporary China as differentiated from the older versions of Chinese lifestyles that can predominate our children’s literature. Fantastic resource for ages 5 and up.

Good Morning, China, written and illustrated by Hu Yong Yi
published in 2007 by Roaring Brook Press

It’s seven ‘o clock in the morning. The park is full of people engaged in their morning pursuits.

Cycling, badminton, tai chi, fan dancing. Serenity, community, and culture are beautifully displayed on individual pages, then brought together in one splendid final page which unfolds to reveal the entire park. A quiet, enchanting glimpse of one small corner of China, for ages 3 and up.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning, written by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
published in 1999 by Albert Whitman & Company

Another morning in China, this time accompanying little Mei-Mei and her dear grandpa. Starting with rice porridge and pickled vegetables for breakfast, the two of them ride on Grandpa’s bike along busy streets, through the round moon gate, to the park. 

Their friends are waiting for them, as well as for the special companion they’ve brought along. Who and what could it be? Join these two for a sweet Chinese morning. Handsome oil paintings reveal lots more about their lives. Ages 3 and up. 

Lost and Found: Adèle and Simon in China, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2016 by Farrar Straus Giroux

The impeccable, delicate illustration work of Barbara McClintock captivates us on every page of this grand tour of China, dogging the footsteps of brother and sister, Adéle and Simon. These two are off on a huge adventure with Uncle Sidney, dropping in on a silk farm, canalside town, the Forbidden City, Great Wall, a Mongolian ger, desert caravan, Buddhist monastery, bamboo forest, and more.

Along the way, Simon keeps losing his belongings, giving us one more thing to spy in these detailed double-page spreads. Immensely engaging, with extra pages telling about each site visited by the trio. An absolute gem for ages 5 and up.

A New Year’s Reunion

This story raises our awareness of more than 100 million Chinese migrant workers who return home to China to celebrate New Year’s Day if at all possible. Fabulous glimpse of a difficult reality. Reviewed here.

Long Long’s New Year

Celebrate the grand festival with red lanterns, tang hulus, dragons parading through the street and one lucky little boy. My review is here

Happy New Year! written and illustrated by Demi
published in 1997 by Crown Publishers

This is a much more informative book about Chinese New Year rather than a story like the previous two titles.

Demi explains the cycle of New Year celebrations, animal zodiac, correlation with spring planting, household preparations, good luck wishes, the meanings of many foods in the New Year feast, the meanings of trees and flowers given as gifts, and lots more about the spiritual aspects of this celebration.

All of this is done quite lightly and briefly and illustrated with Demi’s charming touch. An unusual array of lore for ages 6 and up. ( This book was republished in 2003 by Knopf under the title Happy Happy Chinese New Year. Maybe that will be easier to find.)

Anno’s China, by Mitsumasa Anno
originally published in 2009; published in 2016 by Beautiful Feet Books

If you don’t know Anno’s beautiful, intriguing journeys in his numerous books taking us from Spain to Britain to the U.S., you should start with this one and move on from here.

This time he models his illustrations after a famous Chinese scroll painting. As we move along the river in Anno’s story, we drift in and out of villages, along rice fields, past markets and shipbuilders, elementary schools and funeral processions. In some of Anno’s books we have to spy all the cultural details and references without help. In this volume, each scene has commentary in the back of the book so we can first observe for ourselves all the details he’s packed in and then read about the scenes in Anno’s informative comments. Serene, gorgeous, fascinating, for ages 3 to adult.

Who Wants Candied Hawberries? written by Dongni Bao, illustrated by Di Wu, translated by Adam Lanphier
English edition published in 2016 by Candied Plums

Help yourself to this charming little fantasy featuring an elderly Chinese hawberry peddler and some mysterious customers of his.

I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the delight of discovering just who visits the peddler and buys his wares, so much so that he has enough money to buy medicine for his wife. Set in snowy Beijing, with a very different feel to the environs than any other of the books on China, this one’s a curious treat for ages 3 and up.

TIBET

Our Journey from Tibet: Based on a True Story, written by Laurie Dolphin, photographs by Nancy Jo Johnson
published in 1997 by Dutton Children’s Books

This poignant story reveals the experience of many young Tibetan children who illegally escape the restrictive regulations of the Chinese government in favor of a life in India. 

It’s based on interviews with a 9-year-old girl named Sonam who made the incredibly arduous journey over the Himalayas, leaving behind parents and home, facing fear, battered feet, swollen rivers, scarce food, snow blindness, soldiers, and so much more with amazing bravery.

Sonam and the others in her group joined thousands of other Tibetan children being cared for in children’s villages in India where they receive education and care while they await the day that Tibet is declared free and they can return home. Beautifully written and photographed, this is an eye opener for children ages 6 and up.

MONGOLIA

My Little Round House

I love this story by a Mongolian author/artist who introduces us to her homeland via one little baby and his first year of life. Full review is here.

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin
published in 2008 by Lee & Low Books

The Naadam is an annual summer festival held in Mongolia with races showcasing the Mongolians’ incredible horsemanship. One of the races sees young boys and girls — child jockeys — racing across the steppe on half-wild horses!

Ted and Betsy Lewin traveled to Mongolia to see the Naadam traditions for themselves. This is their fascinating travelogue, focusing on one child jockey, 9-year-old Tamir. Striking illustration work brings the scenes vividly to life in this breathtakingly reckless contest! More intriguing facts about gers and life in Mongolia are included. Amazing, for ages 6 and up.

KOREA

Bee Bim Bop, written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
published in 2005 by Clarion Books

Have you eaten bee-bim bop? It’s a very popular dish in Korea and appears on menus in restaurants here in the U.S.

Dance along with the enthusiasm of one little girl who simply cannot wait to dig into some of her mom’s bee-bim bop in this cheerful story perfect for toddlers. Then go ahead and try some of your own using the recipe included in the book. Warm illustrations portray a contemporary Korean family.

New Clothes for New Year’s Day

A lovely, quiet story about the grand holiday of New Year’s. Click the title for my full review.

 

Goodbye 382 Shin Dang Dong

A view of Korean culture through the eyes of someone who is moving far away. Click the title for my full review.

 

JAPAN

Take Me Out to the Yakyu

Fabulous, fun, side-by-side comparison of baseball in the Japan and the U.S. Click on the link for my full review.

I Live in Tokyo, written and illustrated by Mari Takabayashi
published in 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Books

Travel to modern day Japan and take in dozens of colorful vignettes by Japanese artist Mari Takabayashi as she guides us through one calendar year in Tokyo.

Celebrate the New Year and Valentine’s Day, Tokyo-style. Go to school, take in a tea ceremony, and attend a wedding. It’s a joyful catalog of Japanese life, sure to pique the interest of children ages 4 and up. A glossary of words and numbers at the end will let you practice your Japanese, too!

My Awesome Japan Adventure: A Diary About the Best 4 Months Ever, written and illustrated by Rebecca Otowa
published in 2013 by Tuttle Publishing

This is a great middle-grade read. It’s the diary of a 5th grade boy who is off to spend some months with a pen pal near Kyoto. Written in a casual, 11-year-old boy voice — as you can tell from the title! — Dan describes Japan through the eyes of a first-time visitor. Breakfast, school, helping out with a rice harvest, Athletic Day, bowing, a tea ceremony, a visit to a Ninja Village and lots more are all packed in here in brief entries.

Contemporary, youthful Japan — that’s what you get here, beautifully illustrated and served up with this age group in mind. Ages 9 and up.

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
published in 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press

I know. I’m supposed to be focusing on the present, but this dream of a tale was simply irresistible. 

Based on the 17th century practice of the provincial governors’ annual trek between Kyoto and Tokyo, this story narrates the journey from the viewpoint of the governor’s young daughter, Yuki. Travel along with her aboard a palanquin for 300 miles of extraordinary sights, sounds, tastes.

The long train of 1000 carriers moves through all sorts of terrain, weather, lodging, as Yuki wrestles with changing homes and composes a little haiku each day. Gorgeous, inspired illustration work and fascinating detail about this long ago time and beautiful land for ages 4 and up.

Many more fantastic titles, including chapter books and middle-grade novels about East Asia that just didn’t quite fit in our tour are in my archives. They’re easy to find in my Subject Index.

Have another awesome title to recommend? Please do, in the comments.

Our next destination will be the Indian Subcontinent so stock up on your curry and naan. 

If you’ve missed the earlier stops on our tour, here are links:

Tour of the World: Destination Australia, New Zealand, and Micronesia

Tour of the World: A Sampler of Cultures to Start

Buckle Up for a Tour of the World

 Enjoying the ride? Tell a friend about the tour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Shelley’s interior illustrations are vigorous and arresting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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