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

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

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

I didn’t look for books quite this small.

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

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

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

Me, coming home from the library.

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

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

•new graduates of  leveled readers, to be sure

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

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

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

•parents/caregivers looking for a short read-aloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storytelling is an old craft. Old as humankind.

prehistoric cave art, ennedi plateau, chad

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

13th century Islamic illustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Just looking at this stack of books today warms my heart. Lush illustrations and tenderhearted characters bring a palpable response of peace, security, belonging, and healing.

These days are filled with turmoil and conflict, and assuredly children pick up on that. It’s the perfect time to snuggle up together and read reassuring, beautiful picture books.

The Way Home in the Night, written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi
first published in Japan in 2015; English edition published by Kids Can Press in 2017

Akiko Miyakoshi is making a name for herself with her gorgeous, flannel-soft, rosebud-tender illustration work and the rich themes of imagination and belonging thrumming through her books.  (See my review of The Tea Party in the Woods here.)

Here she explores the many varied life stories which surround us, the array of homes cocooning our neighbors, each holding an aroma of mystery, a tease of the unknown, and our common desire for repose.

As one little bunny goes for a quiet evening stroll with Mama, the glow of lamplight from within apartment windows gives glimpses of neighbors’ lives and piques curiosity. What are they talking about? What are they cooking up for supper? What happens next, after we lose sight of them? So many different narratives, yet ultimately bound together with deeply human needs — home, and a place to lay our heads to sleep.

Attuned to universal wondering, this hushed story will resonate deeply with young and old, ages 2 and up. Outstanding.

Little Fox in the Forest, a wordless book by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

My word! This book is flooded with wave upon wave of adorableness, kindness, and imagination, with one well-shot arrow of childhood angst piercing through to create pitch-perfect tension for preschoolers.

It’s the ol’ lovey-gone-missing plot, portrayed with panache. A little girl’s favorite stuffed fox accompanies her to the playground one day. While she’s enjoying a hearty swing, a real fox kit spies the toy, snatches it, and hot-foots it into the forest.

With determination borne of desperation, the little girl tracks her beloved fox, a host of darling woodland residents and one schoolmate assisting her. What they discover — a splendiferous woodland village that’ll set your heart a-flutter — plus one small, pathetic fox kit, leads to a resolution sweet as a butter cookie.

Could anyone not feel their heart flood with warmth upon reading this story? I think not. A perfect picture book for ages 2 and up.

Home and Dry, written and illustrated by Sarah L. Smith
published in 2016 by Child’s Play Inc.

Coming to us from Australia, this quirky charmer features the Paddling family whose home on a rocky outcropping of an island looks mighty idyllic; plus a rainstorm to end all rainstorms; and dear Uncle Bastian, a lonely old fellow whose busy life has heretofore superceded pleasant holidays but who has decided to finally pay a long-overdue visit to his family.

The collision course of events here — picnics and paddlings and Paddlings and predicaments — makes for a rollicking series of near-misses and thorough wettings until all ends in coziness, hospitality, belonging, and everyone “home and dry.”

With a plot and illustrations crammed with affection and the humble joy of home and family, this is a delight for ages 3 and up.

The Giant Jumperee, written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
originally published in the UK; first U.S. edition 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Two UK childrens’ literature rock stars teamed up to create this sunny, funny, jolly tale, and what a joy it is!

Something is lurking in Rabbit’s burrow! It calls itself the Giant Jumperee! Good heavens! What can it be?

Rabbit is affrighted! And as each of his animal friends stoutly offers to help remove this unseen monster, they become just as alarmed! After all, it shouts out such dire warnings!

When even Elephant is left cowering, Mama Frog calmly steps up to the challenge and what do you know — that Giant Jumperee is heading home to tea in a merry minute.  Timeless and happy, for young lapsitters, ages 18 months and up.

Time Now to Dream, written by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
published in the UK in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Here’s another book awash in the perfection of Helen Oxenbury’s art, with a story brilliantly balancing delicious ingredients: tingly mystery, tenderness, bravery, sibling camaraderie, and the warmth of home.

Alice and Jack are enjoying a fine day when, coming through the forest, a sound disrupts their playtime. It’s a weird sound. An uncanny howl. It goes something like this, “Ocka by hay beees unna da reees…”

Is it the Wicked Wolf?! Into the shadowy woods they go with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity, only to discover a most surprising scene! For at the height of tension, sunlight and warmth break through.  Despite Jack’s worries, everything really is all right, and the dreams they dream tonight will be full of sweetness. Absolutely top notch for ages 18 months and up.

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I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my quest for the best new nonfiction titles out there as I lovelovelove a good nonfiction picture book! Here are some of the juicy best I’ve seen thus far:

The Street Beneath My Feet, written by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Yuval Zommer
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2017 by words and pictures, part of The Quarto Group

Truly, this is one of the most exciting nonfiction books I’ve seen!

The mysterious depths of the earth, nature’s unseen surprises and buried treasures, the murky pipes and wires of urban networks — all of this lurks beneath our feet, hidden from view. Perhaps so utterly unseen, it even evades our curiosity!

Until it’s unfolded in splendor by Yuval Zommer  — just look at the way this book opens up as we descend down, down, down, to the Earth’s inner core, then turn about and travel back to the surface. About 9 or 10 feet long when it’s all stretched out, with different illustrations on each side.  How cool is that?! Along the way, we get a guided tour of all the fascinations beneath our feet. Earthworms and storm drains, subways and stalactites, badger setts and precious gems.

Phenomenal illustration work. Just the right amount of information. An utterly inviting format. This comes with my highest recommendation! Grab a copy for kids ages 3 and up.

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

This rich sequence of poetic and visual portraits brims with promise, passion, courage, and LIFE!

Unreeled for us in chronological order, eighteen free-verse poems celebrate a tantalizing diversity of amazing Latinos. Meet Juan de Miralles who is said to have saved his friend George Washington’s troops from scurvy by delivering Cuban fruit to them. Botanist Ynés Mexia who explored Mexico and South America at the turn of the century identifying hundreds of new plant species. The well-known Roberto Clemente, and the lesser known, fascinating Fabiola Cabeza de Baca — what an amazing life she led!

Each brief poem is matched with a powerful, vibrant illustration in sizzling color. Wow, these pages pop!

Brief, prose sketches of each individual are included as well as a rhythmic listing of many more Latinos to learn about. What a fantastic fusion of history, culture, artistry for ages 6 and up!

Penguin Day: A Family Story, written and photographed by Nic Bishop
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Who can resist penguins? And who can top Nic Bishop’s outstanding nature photography?

There you have it — the perfect recipe for a charming photoessay. Witness a day in the life of a rockhopper penguin family as Mom and Dad care for their baby, guarding him and undertaking an extraordinary journey to collect food.

So much chub, fluff, drama, and cuteness! Dominated by Bishop’s crisp, stunning photographs with a minimal narration of events, this book will entrance children ages 2 and up. An Author’s Note provides scads more information about these Antarctic residents for parents or older siblings.

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything, written by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

Karl Linné, or Carolus Linnaeus, is one of Sweden’s great figures, whose name is borne by a delicate pink wildflower found in the far north, the Linnaea borealis. My dear mother-in-law, Elsie Linnea, child of Swedish immigrants, is named after that Swedish beauty. I love that!

Linnaeus is famous for having developed the classification system for all living things which we take so for granted that most of us don’t pause to think how it originated. A man with insatiable curiosity and wonder who was devoted to botany, Linnaeus began by gathering and using plants for medicinal purposes. What he encountered was chaos due to no uniform method of naming and conversing about anything from a dog rose to a honeybee. So he set about creating order — an enormous task!

Catherine Stock’s gorgeous watercolors beautifully present Sweden in the 1700s and the world of plants in particular which Linnaeus loved. This little gem is accessible to children ages 5 and up.

Animal Journeys, written by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2017 by 360 Degrees, an imprint of Tiger Tales

Such a beauty! Small but chunky, nature-sketchbook-sized, crammed with lovely illustrations and morsels of text about all manner of animals on the move, it’s a book that’ll lure you into discovering more.

Migratory animals, swimmers, animals coping with challenging environments, surprising animal antics. Wildebeest and pond skaters; wolf packs and dung beetles; echolocation and piggybacking. Dabble here and there in the animal kingdom and be amazed by the variety of travelers.

Graced by Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s captivating artistry, this one’s accessible to kids ages 3 to much older.

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot, written by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Just take a look at that lemon-chiffon light, soaring candy-striped balloon, impossibly-lithesome wings buoying Sophie and her wicker basket high above the French countryside. What a dreamy entryway to this fascinating story of the first woman pilot.

Sophie Blanchard lived in France in the 18th century when balloonomania had swept the nation. Having married a famous balloonist, Sophie thrilled to accompany him into the air, to watch villages turn miniature below her. Ascending alone, however, without a male pilot — that was unacceptable in her society. Did Sophie let that stop her? No, ma’am.

Matthew Clark Smith tells Blanchard’s compelling life story while Matt Tavares’ stunning illustrations evoke French elegance, ethereal thrills, and the brooding storms of Blanchard’s life. A fascinating foray into the world of ballooning and a woman I’d never heard of, for ages 5 and up. The author’s and illustrator’s notes are gems as well!

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of, written and illustrated by Martin Brown
first published in the UK in 2016; U.S. edition in 2017 by Scholastic by arrangement with David Fickling Books

If you’re a bit bored with bears, zzz-ed by zebras, deluged with dogs; if you seek a bit more exotic fare…well, look no further!

This catalog of uncommon creatures is just the ticket. It’ll wow you with splendidly-diverse populations that humbly inhabit Earth, yet never made it into a children’s picture book…until now.

Say hello to the Numbat, the Zorilla, and that darling, pink, Lesser Fairy Armadillo. No, these aren’s Seussian inventions — they are real animals. Martin Brown’s upbeat, folksy descriptions of these guys make for great reading, with a nice touch of humor and swell illustration work to boot. Even the glossary is a delight! Ramp up wonder with ages 5 and up.

I’ve just finished a highly-original adventure story narrated by a gorilla. Goes by the name of Sally Jones. Brilliant at chess. Also excellent with ships’ engines and the odd accordion in need of repair.

It comes to us from Sweden where it has already received several prestigious awards, and I’m recommending it for advanced readers ages 10 to adult.

The Murderer’s Ape, written and illustrated by Jakob Wegelius, translated from the Swedish by Peter Graves
originally published in Sweden in 2014; English translation published in 2017 by Delacorte Press
588 pages

I fell in love with it the moment I got my hands on it. This is a book that revels in its physicality and makes every non-digital reader coo with pleasure. Its stout, tome-like size and shape, exotic turquoise cover image, gorgeous end papers decorated with illustrated maps, stylish typography, swoon-worthy catalogue of key characters, and handsome illustrations heading every chapter all add up to one visual treat, a striking gateway to the world unfolding in its story.

One of the endpapers, in its original Swedish.

Plus, there are 80 chapters! 80! Most of them quite, quite short. Immensely satisfying, that is, to polish off 80 chapters, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, the main question is: Has a good yarn been spun? And the answer is: Absolutely.

The novel is framed as a typewritten account of a hair-raising, far-flung, nail-biter of an adventure, reported by its main participant, Sally Jones, a gorilla of most surprising capabilities.

As our story begins, Sally is happily working with her dear friend, a good-hearted sea captain, Henry Koskela, on his little tramp steamer, the Hudson Queen, running cargoes to ports far and wide. While in Lisbon, the two of them are hired by a fellow who turns out to be up to his neck in shady business dealings. Seriously murky stuff going on here. Two treacherous seconds later and Henry is in prison, falsely accused of murder. Sally, bereft, must navigate a world that certainly is unprepared for her while simultaneously following clues that will clear Henry’s name.

Those clues will take her to exotic locations, stunning new adventures, and life-threatening confrontations. She meets a huge cast of characters, some kind, some cruel; some loyal, some treacherous; a wealthy, petulant maharaja; an accordion repairman; an infectious disease specialist; an unscrupulous businessman. She travels in rickshaws, biplanes, and ships’ holds; dines in opulence and hides in cemeteries.

It’s a sweeping odyssey, a bit reminiscent of Jules Verne’s Around the World. In children’s literature, the most akin novel I can think of is Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, though it’s much more suspenseful and plot-driven than Hitty.

Wegelius does not pander to children’s vocabularies or life experiences, giving this book a more classic tone than many contemporary novels. The narrative is peppered with foreign proper nouns which may snooker novice readers but will add to the immersive experience for the savvy. Sally Jones appears to be a highly educated gorilla who writes her memoir in sophisticated, mature prose. And although this is an account of murder and mayhem, the narrative flows along unhurriedly, with lengthy descriptive passages and internal musings. For children who require a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter, this will be a new pace.

My squeamish alarms went off only one time in recommending this to children due to some oblique references to spousal abuse fairly early in the account. I’d have been happier without that element.

This book can’t win many of the big American awards, not being by an American author, but it can win the Batchelder Award for books originally published in a different language and subsequently translated into English and brought to the U.S. — and I hope it does!

It’s full-on May. Green swathes the earth, tulips paint gardens, socks and shoes lie discarded. Time for some fresh, glad picture books for hammock and lemonade time. Every one of these is guaranteed to be a juicy pleasure for thirsty, curious minds.

Everybunny Dance!, written and illustrated by Ellie Sandall
originally published in Great Britain; published in the U.S. in 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, and imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Oh, these darling bunnies! Plump bottoms. Jovial splotchy fur. Cheerful capering. Just…irresistible.

How merrily they dance, play, and sing! UNTIL!! Egads! It’s a fox! Everybunny run!

When these worried-yet-sensitive bunnies see a tear trickle down that fox’s long nose, however, they respond with the sweetest bunnywarmth of all. There is so much gladness and good will in this book, you’ll feel your heart expand a couple of sizes. A gem for ages 18 months and up.

Under the Umbrella, written by Catherine Buquet, illustrated by Marion Arbona, translated by Erin Woods
originally published in French; English edition published in 2017 by Pajama Press

A sodden day brings out the grumpies for one curmudgeonly fellow, striding down the avenue under his black umbrella, scowling, dashing, spluttering…

Meanwhile, a lemon-yellow bakery window shining out upon the grey day attracts a little boy like a moth to lamplight, those mouthwatering mousses and razzledazzzle tarts beaming sunshine into his soul.

What happens when a gust of wind whooshes these two people together? A smile. A kind gesture. A spilling over of sweetness. This dynamic book will gladden you, not to mention precipitating a trip to the local patisserie! Striking illustration work emotes the changing moods of this story with tremendous pizzazz. A joy for ages 2 and up.

Round, by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Roundness. Such a simple concept, carried out brilliantly by Minnesota poet Joyce Sidman, illustrated with tender warmth by the talented Taeeun Yoo.

This ambling exploration of round things gently unfolds in Sidman’s pristine text.  Words reflecting the incisive wonder of a child are pared down to those quiet, perfect few that resonate within the reader, stimulate more wonder.

Yoo’s print-like illustrations are impeccable, gracing every page with physical and emotional beauty that stops us in our tracks.

I adore this book — timeless, thoughtful, curious, warmhearted. Perfect for sharing with ages 18 months and up.

Mr. Postmouse Takes a Trip, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
originally published in French, 2016; English language edition 2017 by Kids Can Press

Mr. Postmouse stole my heart with his first round of deliveries, reviewed here.

Now he’s off for a whirlwind, ’round-the-world vacation with his family. Ever responsible, Mr. Postmouse brings along a cartful of parcels to deliver along the way.

Whether on a volcanic isle or at a desert oasis, the Postmouse family enjoys meeting new friends. What a jolly treat to visit these places with them! Best of all are the peeks into many, tiny, clever homes and shops along the way. Home in a cactus or a tiny yellow submarine. Home on a cloud or in a dragon’s lair. Darling wee furnishings and details make this a treasure to pour over with ages 2 and up.

Arthur and the Golden Rope, written and illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

Welcome to a fabulous Norse tale about young Arthur of Iceland, a lad destined for epic quests from his earliest days.

When the brutish wolf, Fenrir, blots out the town’s great cauldron of fire, plunging them into icy darkness forever, it’s Arthur who’s chosen to venture off to Valhalla, track down Thor, and urge him to use his thunderbolt to rekindle their flame.

But oh! this is much easier said than done! Incredibly appealing panels of illustrations carry us into a legendary Nordic world as Stanton spins this wildly adventurous tale. This appears to be the only title available in the Brownstone’s Mythical Collection. I’m definitely hoping for more. Fantastic storytelling for ages 5 and up.

This House, Once, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

The door in this house once was part of “a colossal oak tree about three hugs around and as high as the blue.”

Now there’s an intriguing thought. What about the foundation stones? The red bricks in the walls? Or these glass window panes?

What were all the things that make up this house, before they turned into our house?

Quietly thought-provoking, this dreamy book will spark ideas and questions and wonder about not only houses, but all manner of objects we take for granted. What were they once? How are they made? Who made them?

An immensely clever, ethereal prod towards wondering, for ages 4 and up.

Bob the Railway Dog: The True Story of an Adventurous Dog, written by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Andrew McLean
published in 2015 in Australia; first U.S. edition 2016 by Candlewick Press

If you’re a dog lover, you’ll warm to this engaging story about a homeless dog adopted by a railway guard back in 1884 Australia.

It took no time at all for this shaggy dog named Bob to attach himself to Mr. Ferry, to learn how to hop aboard the caboose and ride the rails, to switch trains at will in order to see a sizable stretch of the Australian countryside.

Bob was welcomed everywhere, and you’ll welcome him into your hearts, too, as you steam along from Adelaide to Kalangadoo! Sweet story, handsomely illustrated with gentle watercolor illustrations that bring the era and the land to life. Ages 4 and up.

Tony, written by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin Stead
published in 2017; a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

If I handed you this book and you didn’t know it was new, you would likely guess it was a vintage picture book from, say, the 1940s. A velvet soft, yesteryear quietness breathes out from every ounce of it.

The poem which comprises the text was written by Ed Galing just prior to his death in 2013. It’s a reminiscing poem about a sweet-tempered white horse, Tony, who pulls the milk wagon for driver Tom on their early morning rounds. Straightforward, free of soppiness, rich with adoration for this beloved horse, Galing’s poem narrates the routine, cherished interactions between Tony, Tom, and a customer.

Erin Stead’s dove-soft pencil drawings sweep us into a sweet relationship with these three. Her palette of grey-green whispers, while patches of lamplight cast a welcoming glow in the cool dawn shadows. Every element is just so quiet.

I love quiet books, in a world too often dominated by loud, frenetic offerings for children. Soak in the beauty, the stillness, the human pace of Tony. A treat for ages 2 to 100.

Last year marked the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Those centuries saw London rebuild from tragic destruction…

…to the phenomenal city she is today.

A gorgeous book was published to commemorate the fire. That prompted me to scope out some other great titles available to those of us on this side of the pond, helping us explore the early history of our friends the Brits. The starting point of our journey today will be 1666 and we’ll travel farther back in time from there.

The Great Fire of London, written by Emma Adams, illustrated by James Weston Lewis
published in 2016 by Wayland

The striking illustrations in this book arrest our attention straight from the cover image to the final page. Phenomenal!

Walk through the streets of London during the terrifically hot summer of 1666, and witness the progress of the terrible conflagration that began in a baker’s oven and roared through the city over the next days.

Read excerpts from journals, meet Christopher Wren, discover the changes to firefighting that occurred as a result of the ruination, learn of the reconstruction to famous buildings — all in a concise, riveting narrative. History made eminently fascinating for ages 6 and up.

If this makes you hanker for a longer historical fiction account of the Great Fire, we enjoyed Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. It’s a great read/read-aloud for ages 8 and older. Out of print, but you can find copies in some libraries or buy from third party sellers on Amazon.

The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet, written by Celeste Davidson Mannis, illustrations by Bagraim Ibatoulline
published in 2003 by Viking

Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, reigned from 1558 to 1603, giving her name to a dazzling era of culture and prosperity. This fascinating book about her is structured as an alphabet book, but don’t be fooled! Its rich content suits readers ages 7 through much older.

Every summer Queen Elizabeth took a holiday known as the royal progress. The queen, her courtiers, and hundreds of attendants left London in a caravan that stretched as far as the eye could see.” What made up this spectacular procession? What festivities took place along the way? Where did she stay? How did they feast? Who were her courtiers?

Packed with glittering detail, illustrated by one of the masters who takes us by the hand and plumps us down in the middle of Elizabethan England, this is a gem of a history book.

The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets!, written and illustrated by Marcia Williams
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Stepping farther back still…Elizabeth I was the last of the Tudors, a line of royalty whose rule began in 1485 with the crowning of Henry VII.

Marcia Williams’ jolly cartoon style makes the history of those 120 years most-appealing and accessible to young elementary children. Her colorful panels introduce all the Tudors plus a few extras such as Shakespeare and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Running along the bottom of the pages we witness the lives of the commoners. And a snappy little ferret named Smudge gives a running account from his point of view along the margins.

A jumble of fun that delivers a whole lot of information.

For more books specifically about Shakespeare, see my post: hey nonny nonny! ’tis Shakespeare’s birthday

Now let’s take a big leap back in time…

Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2007 by Houghton Mifflin

Around the year 800, an epic poem about a hero named Beowulf was written down in the Anglo-Saxon language. A couple of centuries passed, England was conquered by the folks across the Channel, and the enormous changes to the Saxons’ language meant that soon very few could read that Olde English account.

Thankfully, some scholars delved into those decrepit manuscripts and brought Beowulf back to us in the early 1800s. This excellent retelling by James Rumford pays homage to its language of origin by using only words that can be traced back to ancient Anglo-Saxon. What a fabulous idea!  History and linguistics in one!

Rumford’s vigorous illustrations exude the warring spirit of this tumultuous, hair-raising struggle. A great introduction for brave children ages 7 and up.

The Secrets of Stonehenge, by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
published in 2013 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

With this final book, we carom all the way back to Stone-Age Britain, some 10,000 years in the past, as we trace the mysteries and secrets of Stonehenge.

What was happening on this piece of wild land we now call the Salisbury Plain all those ages ago? What gods and goddesses did those ancient people worship? What is a “henge” anyway? When did people start constructing this one, and why?

How did they transport such mammoth stones? How did they set them in position? What archaeological discoveries at Stonehenge are revealing the secrets to its past?

Brief, clear text,  juicy tidbits of information in side-bars, and breezy, full-page, colorful illustrations will draw children as young as 5 into these questions and curiosities about the past.

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