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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

The first order of business today is awarding the give-aways of that splendid nature journal and those¬†jazzy magazines. As always with these giveaways, I wish I could give one to everyone who enters! However…

Charity — congrats on winning the Small Adventures Journal!
Kristie Hammond — congrats on winning the Anorak and Dot issues!

Please e-mail me at jillswanson61@gmail.com with your shipping addresses and I’ll get those right out to you in time for gifting ūüôā

Today I have some new Christmas stories to brighten your holiday bedtime reading stack. There are every so many more titles in the Subject Index under Holidays: Christmas so look there to find lots  of favorites.

The Little Reindeer, written and illustrated by Nicola Killen
first published in Great Britain in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

This simple, dear story is about a little girl named Ollie who awakens on Christmas Eve to a jingling sound. Out into the frosty night she goes, speeding on her sled to find the source of that ringing.

Turns out it’s a scarlet collar trimmed with silver bells, caught on a bare branch! Ollie returns it to its antlered owner, and in exchange receives a breathtaking ride back home! Beautiful, tender, gray-scale illustrations feature smidgeons of crimson, shimmers of silver, and enticing cut-outs to make the whole story feel magical. Ages 18 months and older.

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue, written by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
first published in the UK in 2016; first US edition 2017 by Nosy Crow

Princess Eliza lives in an ethereal palace, blush pink, festooned with crystal icicles. What she loves most is inventing, spending her days tinkering all by herself. This, her royal parents decree, is not what princesses do. Too dusty. Too lonely. Time for her to play normal games with other children.

In her quest for neighborhood friends, Eliza comes upon a small house overflowing with chaotically-busy elves. It seems their boss has the flu and they’re swamped with toy orders. Just the kind of problem Eliza’s schematic drawings are made for!

Vivacious rhyming, wonderfully appreciative of science-y girls, this is a bright blast of fun for ages 3 and up.

A Christmas for Bear, written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

I do hope you know these two by now — Mouse and Bear. If so, your heart will skip a little happy beat to discover this new tale about two unlikely friends.

Christmas rolls around, and what to our surprise but Bear is feeling some Christmas spirit! Some, mind you. He’s particularly fixated on poems and Christmas pickles! Mouse, of course, is more interested in presents. Read this warm, funny story to discover how each enjoys a merry holiday. A treat for ages 3 and up.

Finding Christmas, written by Lezlie Evans, illustrated by Yee Von Chan
published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company

Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse are happy housemates. The air in their snug burrow is festive with tree-decorating and hazelnut cookie baking. There’s just a wee bit of shopping left before the celebrations can begin.

Suddenly, an emergency presents itself in the form of a swallow, sick, collapsed on a drift of snow, who needs tender nursing care to survive. Bit by bit, the gifts our friends secretly bought for one another are urgently needed to treat their ailing guest. These sacrifices prove to be the truest display of Christmas in this heartwarming story. Charming illustrations will captivate ages 2 to 3 and up.

The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
published in 2016 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A group of animal friends huddle atop Merry Woods Hill. It’s Christmas Eve, and they are terribly excited to spot Santa flying by on his sleigh. But as he whooshes past, one package tumbles out!

¬†The tag says it’s for the New Baby at the Farm. Delivering it will take some doing, and not all members of the party are happy about it. But generous hearts prevail, and in the end everyone happily gets a share of Christmas treats. Ages 3 and up.

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

Litograph t-shirts

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

Out of Print t-shirts

Favorites old and new beautifully printed.

Bookplates for those special books

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

Anorak magazine or Dot magazine subscription

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

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

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

Literary cookbooks

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

A boxed set of classics

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

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

 One for the whole family: The Lost Words

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

Ages 0-2:

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

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


Ages 2-5:

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

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

Ages 5-8:

something old: A Bear Called Paddington
Amazon Link
review here

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

Ages 8-12:

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

something new: The Wonderling
Amazon Link
review here

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

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

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

 

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Here in the Great North we’re looking forward to wearing our woolies, sipping our chai, and watching candlelight flicker in windows as December approaches.

I love winter! What about you? Today’s books will warm your heart towards cold weather, even if you prefer the tropics.

Singing Away the Dark, written by Caroline Woodward, illustrated by Julie Morstad
first published in 2010; special edition published in 2017 by Simply Read Books

Julie Morstad’s elegant artwork graces the pages of this nostalgic, glad story of one little girl’s mile-long walk through morning dark and winter frost to catch her school bus.

At age six, she’s stalwart enough to sing away the sometimes-eerie woodland shapes and sounds she encounters along her way. Tender, delightful, gorgeous. Ages 4 and up.

When the Moon Comes, written by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James
published in 2017 by Tundra Books

Those of us who grew up in small northern towns where ice skates were standard issue and ponds froze for the sole purpose of hockey will revel in this fiercely glad story of a bunch of kids anticipating their first frosty game on perfect ice under a full moon.

The hardiness and happiness of those freezing cold nights, breath forming icicles on scarves, pale rings encircling the moon, pucks cracking against sticks, cocoa scalding tongues, is perfectly captured in text and masterful illustrations in this book, coming to us from where-else-but-Canada. I love this collaboration!! Outstanding for ages 4 and up.

Pablo in the Snow, written by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet
published in 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

Pablo has never seen snow before and it turns out to be quite the curious stuff. Meeting one woodland friend after another, this undaunted lamb joyfully discovers what those falling pieces of cloud are for! So much fun!

When a snowstorm covers his tracks so his path home is lost, suddenly the fun is over, until Mama and Papa appear to usher him home to a cozy barn. Sweet and comforting for ages 2 and up.

Snowflake In My Pocket, written by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Yu Rong
first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller

Burly old Bear and small, enthusiastic Squirrel are dear friends. One icy night, Bear suggests snow might be on its way and sure enough, a magical fairyland awaits Squirrel in the morning!

He cannot wait to explore it all with Bear! But, oh dear. Bear has the sniffles and can’t go out. What can Squirrel do to share this perfect winter morning with his old friend? Charming and warmhearted, just right for ages 2 and up.

Lines, by Suzy Lee
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Suzy Lee again infuses a wordless story with sparkling artistic creativity.

Starting with a blank page, a pencil, and an eraser, what can the artist bring to life with a line? A scribble? What happens when her graphite world spins out of control in seeming failure? Or when the artist forges ahead, fashioning a world bustling with icy energy? Elegant, joyous, fantastical for ages 4 and up.

The Storm Whale in Winter, written and illustrated by Benji Davies
first published in the UK, 2016; first American edition 2017 by Henry Holt and Company

If you haven’t followed the story of this small boy and his father over the years, you can pick up the series’ opener with my review here.

Noi and his dad live a spare life by the sea, warmed by their close-knit relationship, and buoyed by Noi’s friend, the whale. In this wintery installment, Noi grows worried when his fisherman dad doesn’t return home one evening. The sea is iced over around their island and darkness has firmly set in, but Noi is sure that faint light flickering out at sea is his dad, and he’s determined to rescue him.

It turns out to be quite the harrowing adventure, and Noi’s dear whale plays a heroic role. Exciting stuff, anchored in love, for ages 3 and up.

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If you benefit from my work on Orange Marmalade, please consider supporting my work via the Tip Jar. Thanks!

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You’re busy.
I get that.
Holidays approach.
Voila!
10-word teasers to tempt you towards books I adore!
Guaranteed to make your day better.

Fort-building Time, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
published in 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf

Orange Marmalade gold! Charming forts, outdoor fun, every season. Jubilant!

City Moon, written by Rachael Cole, illustrated by Blanca Gómez
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Gorgeous jaunt to spy peek-a-boo moon. Sweet togetherness. Preschool brilliance.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna
originally published in France, 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Harper

Explore outdoors! Ditch electronic games. Doing “nothing” can be spectacular!

No One Else Like You, written by Siska Goeminne, illustrated by Merel Eyckerman
originally published in Belgium, 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Westminster John Knox Press

Diverse people make a captivating world. You make it lovely.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way), written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Clever, funny, surprising, hair-raising alphabetical adventures!  Jolly, surefire pleaser!

Hilda and the Runaway Baby, written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Press

Rapscallion baby rescued by indefatigable, racing pig! Sweet, happy friendship. 

Wee Sister Strange, written by Holly Grant, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Enchanted nighttime woodsy ramble…searching for what? Lush, hushed, magical.

But I Don’t Eat Ants, written by Dan Marvin, illustrated by Kelly Fry
published in 2017 by POW!

Loquacious anteater gourmand, plainly peeved at ant-eating expectations! Wowzer!

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Quackily-quirky! Howlingly-ingenuous! Home is where the wolf is?!

Terrific, written and illustrated by Jon Agee
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Curmudgeonly Eugene + plucky parrot = crack Caribbean sailing team! So droll!

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I don’t know about you, but lately my heart feels as though someone has been scouring it with steel wool.

Raw. Abraded. Grieving over violence and suffering, abuse of power and abuse of Earth, caustic tongues and acrimony, overwhelmingly loud day after day.  

As we move towards a series of holidays celebrating gratitude, light, and love, I want to share some powerful titles that console me with their messages of generosity, kindness, and working to alleviate suffering.

These books suit ages 2 through teens. Pick one or two, read them together, and dream of ways you can help mend the brokenness in our world.

At the end of the post, I have links to a couple of non-profits where your gifts can make a difference to people in extreme need.

You Hold Me Up, written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
published in 2017 by Orca Books

Page through this gem and feel your heart glow with the warmth, strength, and richness of community, family, togetherness. 

You hold me up. I hold you up. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Monique Gray Smith quietly illuminates humanity’s best self with her minimal, just-right words.

Daniel’s striking palette and touching scenes mean each page delivers a wallop of goodness, all with that beautiful First Nation’s flavor. A total delight from our good neighbors in Canada that’ll woo readers of all ages toward being holder-uppers.

 

Love the World, written and illustrated by Todd Parr
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

Todd Parr’s jubilant colors and relentless optimism radiate from every page in this simple call to love for the very young.

Love yourself! Love the world! Mix and repeat. What a great recipe! A warm-as-a-hug book for ages 18 months and up that fills minds and imaginations with smiles, welcome, and kindness. 

 

Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, by George Ancona
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press

Children engaged in knitting hats for homeless families, harvesting vegetables for soup kitchens, delivering meals to the elderly, training assistance dogs, skiing down mountains with physically-disabled kids, picking up trash along highways, and more, briefly describe their activities…

…all accompanied by copious color photographs. No glitz. Just ordinary kids pitching in to help their neighbors. Heartening and inspiring. Ages 3 and up. What can you think of to do together?

It Takes a Village, written by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In her Author’s Note, Clinton says “this book is meant to spark a conversation with our youngest about what children can do to help make the world what they hope it will be.”

Short phrases comprise the text, some more meaningful than others. The main theme is almost completely borne out by Frazee’s ever-tender, inclusive illustrations…¬†

… a sequence of vignettes showing folks banding together to build a prime playground. A neighborhood gathering place. You can’t miss the vibe of hope, collaboration, and warm community shining through here, a lovely antidote to weariness and cynicism. Ages 3 and up.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
published in Canada in 2015 as Le prisonnier sans frontiéres; English edition 2017 by Owlkids Books

A powerful, wordless story unfolds when one man and his young daughter (could be a son) set off to protest a powerful regime. Soldiers attack and the father is thrown into prison. 

As his hope dwindles, a little bird flies through the prison window and delivers a letter. So cheering! But it’s confiscated by an angry guard. More letters come, only to be burned. The plight of this prisoner becomes known around the world, however, and all manner of individuals write letters — fortress-loads of letters. What is the result?

It’s a wordless story, vibrant, poignant, triumphant, taking its inspiration from Amnesty International’s letter-writing marathon and seeking to inspire participation in this annual event. What a wonderful movement to take part in! Ages 4 and up.

The Happy Prince: A Tale by Oscar Wilde, illustrated and adapted by Maisie Paradise Shearring
original edition 2016; published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson

Shearring retells Oscar Wilde’s famous short story featuring the ornate, bejewelled statue of a happy prince and a swallow who alights on it.¬†

The prince, so oblivious of others’ needs throughout his life of opulent wealth, sorrows now from his heights as a statue, for he can see the ugliness and misery of the world from this new vantage point. Both the prince and the swallow are thus moved to sacrifice themselves for the good of the destitute in this fairy tale-esque story.

Shearring’s masterful artwork won the prestigious Bologna International Award for Illustration and you will easily understand why. Her emotive color palette and stunning compositions are utterly captivating. Wherein does true happiness lie — in hoarding or in laying down one’s life for others? Compelling ideas for ages 5 and up.

Manjhi Moves a Mountain, written by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici
published in 2017 by Creston Books

As I read this story, I found myself thinking the author might have toned down the preposterously-inhuman task she relates — that of one poor Indian man digging, spadeful by spadeful, a gap through an actual mountain — if she wanted it to be at all believable.

Then, I turned to the back of the book and discovered that the story is true! Oh! 

Dashrath Manjhi lived in a small, impoverished village in India, separated by a mountain from a village equipped with “running water, doctors, a school, and jobs.” Manjhi keenly felt that if only a roadway could be opened up between these two communities, his own neighbors would be so much better off. Thus, with chisel and hammer, he spent 22 years (!) cutting a road through the mountain.

Read this astonishing story of perseverance with children ages 4 or 5 and up, then ask as Churnin does in her Author’s Note: What kind of “mountain” can you move to make things better in your community?¬†

Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating that “even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”

This is the story of Yunus’ life, from his childhood in India when he was awakened to the distress of poverty, to his encounter with a woman named Sufiya who needed just twenty-two cents for bamboo to build the stools she sold for a living. Forced to borrow these small sums from lenders who took unfair advantage, Sufiya and thousands of women like her could never escape grinding poverty.

Yunus dedicated his life to re-thinking money, banking, and lending, and in 1977 launched the first of his village banks which give microcredit to groups of women. His story and the fruits of his work for millions of women around the world are encouraging and inspiring to say the least. This bio is accessible to children ages 9 and up.

Philanthroparites!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back, by Lulu Cerone
published in 2017 by Aladdin and Beyond Words, Simon & Schuster

I believe there are tens of thousands of middle-grade and high-school kids whose heartbeat is to make a positive difference in the world. Sometimes, though, it’s really hard to figure out just how to do that.

Then, there are the born organizers of the world, God bless them. Lulu Cerone is one of them. As a ten year old, hearing the news of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, she organized lemonade stand wars with kids from her school who wound up raising thousands of dollars for charity. 

This book is a solid collection of 36 great party ideas whose purpose is to raise money for charity or directly infuse kindness into communities. Organized by month to correlate with nationally observed days, Lulu’s creative, fun party plans include tips for success, decorations, themed food ideas, and more. She also includes planning-ahead checklists for a smooth, successful philanthroparty, and lists of organizations she supports in case you need a place to start.

I can easily see how this book would have inspired and instigated my kids to host philanthroparties. Do you know anyone ages 10 and up who would love to be a changemaker? Check out this book!

Inspired to help but don’t know where to start? I have two funds I’d love to see Orange Marmalade readers support:

 

 

To help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to malnourished Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in a neighboring country, click here.

Just $25 provides enough fresh produce for one family for one month. This is a faith-based program in great need of donations to continue this feeding program, and I can vouch for the integrity of those administering it.

For those who prefer to donate to a non faith-based fund, I suggest Save the Children’s fund for Rohingya refugees, which you can access here.¬† These children have fled horrific violence and need water, food, shelter, and protection in Bangladesh.

 

Thanks for spreading kindness! 

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Looking for some great reads for those little shavers, say 15 months and up? Bold, jolly books, short in length but long in painstakingly-crafted ideas and artwork, coming right up!

Truck, Truck, Goose, written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Zoe Waring
published in 2017 by Harper

One oblivious duck goes on a picnic. How much trouble could that cause?

Plenty and more! Jazzy bright color, gobs of jolly trucks, great humor, and a sweet ending. Fabulous.

Goodnight World, written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
published in 2016 by Bloomsbury

Debi Gliori’s chalky, curving, comforting images spill across the pages in this lovely book…

… simply saying goodnight to all kinds of good things in the world. A creamy dreamy treat that’ll end your day with a warm glow.

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

An impeccably gorgeous book with a deceptively simple premise — exploring the round bits in our world.

One of my favorite books of the year. Warm, full of wonder, and beautiful.

Which Way? written by Marthe Jocelyn, illustrated by Tom Slaughter
published in 2010 by Tundra Books

Slaughter’s bold-as-brass graphic design and bright primary colors will arrest a child’s attention as you ponder together all the ways to get around and reach your destination.

Simple. Classy. Intelligent. This same team has several other cool titles for toddlers as well.

Stack the Cats, written and illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Abrams Appleseed

So stylish.

Beginning with one cat sleeping, we count up by cats. When enough of them arrive, we can stack ’em. But too many cats in a stack teeters and totters. Add a few more, and we can stack cats in a couple of equal, smaller stacks. Effortlessly mind-stretching number awareness on tap here with a side of wit.

I Know Numbers! written and illustrated by Taro Gomi
published in Japan in 1985; first U.S. edition 2017 by Chronicle Books

Taro Gomi’s genius explores the numerous places numbers show up in our world from thermometers to bus stops, team jerseys to dice…

… all delivered with aplomb and massive child-appeal.

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I’ve been on a mission lately to find great new reads packed with action, adventure, mystery, humor, grit. Books you might hand to those who might not relish quieter, understated, or more relationship-centric stories. And I found some winners! I loved every one of these:

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, by Avi
published in 2017 by Algonquin Young Readers
313 pages

High adventure, derring-do, rogues a-plenty, villains, thieves, pickpockets, wretched poorhouses, Dickensian schoolmasters, and the constant threat of a hanging hovering about our dear Oliver’s head — that’s the flavor of this action-packed yarn from one of the great storytellers, Avi.

Taking place in and near London, 1724, the story is steeped in period atmosphere, told with an olde-fashioned-y English flavor,¬†seasoned with gusto and wit. Run, hide, dodge, and escape with our 12-year-old hero as he finds himself caught up in a criminal world and searches through smoggy, mucky London for help. You won’t catch your breath until the very last page, and even then, we’re teased with one final line: To be continued in Book Two! 10 and up.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke
published in 2017 by First Second
207 pages

Don’t miss the final episode of Ben Hatke’s thrilling, fantasy, graphic novel trilogy! If you’ve missed the first two books in the series, do not pass go, do not collect $200 before grabbing them from your library and setting out with Jack and Lilly. You can read my review of those here.

When we left off, Jack’s little sister Maddy, a non-verbal child on the spectrum, had been captured by an ogre emerging through an other-worldly portal. The portal itself emerged courtesy of some crazily-bewitched seeds Jack and Maddy planted in their back yard. Ever-bold, audacious Lilly and fiercely-loyal, intrepid Jack charge after her.

What they encounter there, the hazards to be overcome, the enormously-surprising species, and one sweet vintage Shelby Mustang — will have you turning the pages madly, grinning, cringing, and cheering.

Also — Hatke leaves us with quite the teaser ending! A series to relish for ages 7 and up.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, by Jordan Sonnenblick
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press
193 pages

Jordan Sonnenblick creates realistic fiction with biting wit, dry sarcasm, and a host of flawed characters who unapologetically steal our hearts. This latest title of his is no exception, an unflinching look at understanding the backstories of the glitchy people we meet and what it actually means to be a hero.

Maverick is the shrimpiest kid in sixth grade. He’s also missing a dad, and the mom he’s got is mostly out-of-commission due to severe alcoholism and a penchant to drift from one abusive relationship to the next. He attracts bullies like raw meat beckons flies, and when he tries to heroically stand up for others his efforts tend to backfire and land him in detention. Yet Maverick is determined to make his school a better place for others.

How does a kid like this make it? Part of the answer lies in a couple of exceptional adults in his life who stick with him, choose to see potential in this loyal, well-meaning, hurting boy. The other part of the answer is his deep reservoir of desire, a desire to be one of the good guys.

The dysfunctional home lives of kids in your school and neighborhood are laid out here in all their non-glory, as is the difference a person can make and the real meaning of heroism. With humor and grit, it will transform perspectives of its readers, ages 11 and up.

Clementine Loves Red, written by Krystyna Boglar, illustrated by Bohdan Butenko, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Zosia Krasodomska-Jones
originally published in Poland in 1970; English translation published in 2017 by Pushkin Children’s Books
192 pages

This new English translation of a classic Polish children’s book has all the verve you might expect from its racy-tomato-red cover and those slightly off-kilter drawings.

With characters ranging from a small boy called Pudding, to a grouchy artist named Phosphorus Twisk, one forlorn girl by the name of Macadamia, several frantic policeman, a German Shepard called Pickles, and a sneezing car, the story takes on a lovely quirkiness. Throw in a madcap search for the lost Clementine… in the nighttime forest…during a cracking storm…with all the bumbling and near-misses of the Keystone Cops — and you’ll arrive at its zesty, witty flavor.

Butenko’s wobbly, eccentric line drawings, all done in that same splash of red, add greatly to the book’s excellent design. It’s quite a ride from start to finish for readers ages 8 and up. Could also be read-aloud to those a bit younger. (Contains a few expletives in the heat of the chase and several references to “playing Red Indians.”)

Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz, written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
published in 2017 by Harper Collins

Michael Morpurgo, one of¬† children’s literature’s godfathers you might say, has retold the classic Wizard of Oz story from Toto’s point of view. It reads with ease, doggy-friendliness, and a pleasant degree of informality. Boosting the story’s panache are Emma Chichester Clark’s flamboyantly colorful, cheery illustrations, strewn generously throughout.

Morpurgo has followed the original story to a large degree, though he digresses from both the original and the classic Judy Garland film at some points. He’s added in Toto’s predilection for sausages which works very well as a running theme and condensed the action for an evenly clipped tale.

Children ages 6 and up will enjoy this and it would make a fine read-aloud as well. If they like it enough, it could act as a gateway to L. Frank Baum’s original story with the challenge of spotting the differences (I predict some great surprises!), as well as Baum’s many other Oz stories. Several of my daughters loved that whole series when they were young. It’s a treasure trove for young, voracious readers.¬†

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