Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’
Today’s Women’s History Month post highlights motherhood, one of the most challenging, exhausting, all-encompassing responsibilities on the planet, with few accolades and really lousy hours but so much possibility.
Often moms in children’s literature are background characters, yet even there we notice some flashes of genius. For instance, there’s Ferdinand the bull’s mother,
who initially worries about her son sitting quietly just smelling the flowers, but “because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” Way to go, mom. Individuality starts here.
I adore the moms in several of Jonathan Bean’s stories — At Night and Big Snow — who empathetically care for their children while giving them space and freedom to explore and dream and be.
One of my favorite storybook moms is Alfie’s mother, whose house is always unapologetically mussy, whose hair has not seen a salon recently, whose breakfast table is a jumble of milk splotches, egg smears, and the odd sock. Hers is a happy, creative household and she makes no pretense of keeping it all completely under control. Plus, she gets her kids out of doors a LOT!
The women in the following books (gleaned from my archives) are not famous for their accomplishments, yet live quietly heroic lives, nurturing small human beings with love, wisdom, courage, creativity, patience, cunning, fortitude, conviction, selflessness, empathy, resilience, comfort, contentment, and the list goes on.
Represented here are tired mothers, grandmothers, single moms, veiled moms, nannies, adoptive mothers, refugee mothers, harassed mothers, black, white, latino and native mothers, camping moms, berry-picking grandmas, hospitable mothers…
To all of you coping with the demands of motherhood, perhaps quailing before the superhero women featured in most Women’s History Month posts — hats off to you and the epic job you do every day!
Tromping around outdoors moms…
Oh so tired moms…
taking time to listen grandmas…
uber clever moms…
hardworking single moms…
deeply religious moms…
profoundly there-for-you nannies…
bighearted adoptive moms…
magically creating spring moms…
incredibly brave refugee moms…
wise in life grandmas…
harassed but not quitting moms…
ordinarily awesome moms…
spunky world-opening grandmas…
lively ditch the rules grandmas…
carrying you with me moms…
creative, content grandmas…
canoeing, camping moms…
hospitable, merciful moms…
Posted in non-fiction, tagged biography, book reviews, children's literature, diverse children's books, gender equality, gender stereotypes, heroes, nonfiction, women's history month on March 15, 2017| 2 Comments »
A friend of mine recently related that she had been stopped cold one day when her four-year-old daughter declared, “Girls can’t be heroes. Only boys can.”
This shocked young mama promptly sewed her daughter a cape and held a Hero Day. Together they found lots of ways that even a four-year-old could be a hero-in-training.
Little girls (and boys) pick up the most unfortunate things at such early ages from the ocean of air they live in called our culture. One of those is, sadly, a feeling of limitations on what girls are allowed to dream of doing and becoming.
Enter this gem of a book chock full of heroic women.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, compiled by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, illustrated by sixty female artists from around the world
published in 2016 by Timbuktu Labs
One hundred, one-page stories of heroic women are gathered in these pages and I am telling you, your heart will burn with gladness as you read them! Women from ancient times and in the news today. Women from all corners of the globe and every race.
Dancers and doctors and film directors. Spies and scientists and war heroes. A race car driver. An orchestra conductor. And my personal favorite, a poet/baker.
The stories are super short. Each takes about a minute to read. They’re written with a hint of the fairy tale about them. Once there was a curious girl…or Once upon a time there was a girl who…making them tasty as can be for a bedtime snack.
It is no small feat to capture these women’s lives and contributions in such a short passage, retaining her individuality, highlighting something that glints with fascination, and reading not like a wikipedia article but rather an enticing sneak peek at a life you’ll certainly want to explore further. I thoroughly enjoyed reading my way through the whole volume but be aware that these are far from in-depth. That’s how we get 100 of them!
Accompanying the stories are a-ma-zing full-page portraits created by an international collection of women artists. Oh, their work is stunning. I love the variety of styles and immense strength exuding from each one. Riveting.
At the close of these accounts there’s space for the book’s owner to write her own story and draw her own portrait. A brilliant touch.
I’d peg this book for ages 7 and up. There is one account of a young, transgender girl, but beyond that there is no discussion of sexuality. Issues such as depression, violence, child marriage, the Holocaust, are softened with tact. It was funded by crowdsourcing and is not available through Amazon. You can order a copy by heading to their website here, and I hope many of you will.
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
published in 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
On one hand, Louis Braille doesn’t need any introduction. His name speaks for itself. It must be among the most recognizable in the world.
On the other hand, the story of his childhood, appalling accident that led to blindness, quest for learning, and sheer brilliance and dogged persistence in developing a written code to uncloak the world for the blind — this fascinating story does need telling and hearing.
And there are numerous biographies of Braille for children. This newest one by Jen Bryant, though, tells it exceptionally well, ushering us right into Braille’s experience. As Bryant says in her Author’s Note, she wanted to answer the question, “What did it FEEL like to be Louis Braille?” By digging into the emotions of Braille’s story rather than only the facts, she gifts us with this superb book.
Boris Kulikov’s inspired illustration work plunges us into darkness right alongside Louis, then gorgeously illuminates his world. Little wonder it received a 2017 Schneider Family Book Award, a category honoring the artistic expression of the disability experience for children.
Braille spent years slaving over his code, determined to craft one efficient enough to give the blind opportunity to read anything and everything available to sighted persons. And he did this as a child, producing his nearly-final code at age 15. What a fitting story to share with children, ages 6 and up.
A Q&A at the end of the book reveals lots more about Braille and his marvelously curious, inventive mind.
Grab your oatmeal and orange juice. Flip some flapjacks. Spread some peanut butter on that toast. And while you’re munching, go bananas with these silly breakfast stories!
Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2016 by Carolrhoda Books
Duluth-author (hooray!) Chris Monroe’s busy monkey, Chico Bon Bon, is back with his epic tool belt!
Chico’s buddy Clark is making giant pancakes for breakfast and things have gone completely lulu in a hot minute. Serious structural damage is happening in the kitchen courtesy of Clark’s bad aim and his ultra-dense pancakes!
Not to worry. Chico’s tool-belt apron is loaded with everything from a pickle squeezer to a tofu toggle and he’s ready to step in and help. However, even as Chico cleans up a bit here and welds a bit there, Clark has moved along to the next item on the menu, his supersecret blueberry muffins.
This time, actual explosions result!
Watch the pandemonium unfold, cheer as Chico’s brilliant problem-solving ability comes to the rescue, then use the recipes in the book to make your own delish breakfast treats, hopefully without any of the accompanying mayhem!
An uproarious delight for ages 2 and up.
The Worst Breakfast, written by China Miéville, illustrated by Zak Smith
published in 2016 by Black Sheep Books
China Miéville is a British author known for his outstanding fantasy novels, including Un Lun Dun which I reviewed here. I believe this is his first picture book. And it’s a doozy.
Two sisters are about to eat breakfast when they discover to their distress that the orange juice today has got “bits.” Pulp, if you will, that doesn’t go down well at all.
This spurs one sister to regale the other about the worst breakfast ever, a hideous affair of burnt toast, “severely underdone” eggs, gluey porridge…and a wild, tongue-twisting inventory of dozens more terrifying menu items! Jellied eels and salmagundi and rumbledethumps…oh my!
There is grossness and nastiness here by the bowlful, illustrated with frenetic, fantastical abandon by Zak Smith.
All is resolved in one simple, clever solution and the breakfast turns out to be pretty good after all. My guess is this book will turn the stomachs of a few and result in fiendish giggles for many others. Check it out for ages 3 and up and prepare to serve pulp-free OJ for awhile.
Woodpecker Wants a Waffle, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
published in 2016 by Harper Collins
Benny the woodpecker awakes one morning to a wonderful, “tummy-rumbling” smell wafting out from Moe’s “Home of the Hot Waffle Breakfast” grand opening.
Well, if you smelled some toasty warm waffles, you’d want a nibble, wouldn’t you? Benny certainly does, but try as he might, he can’t manage to sneak inside Moe’s restaurant. Woodpeckers, it seems, are not wanted!
Benny takes his dilemma to a gathering of forest friends who initially mock his taste in waffles, but come around to conspire with him in carrying out his stupefying, spectacular solution. It’s a genius move on Benny’s part, full of last-minute twists that’ll surprise and delight you!
Steve Breen is a fantastic storyteller. This one is dripping with good humor and maple syrup. Sure to please kids ages 3 and up, with a side dish of waffles, of course.
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
published in 2015 by Sterling Children’s Books
“Deep in the fridge and behind the green peas,
way past the tofu and left of the cheese,
up in the corner, and back by a roast,
sat Lady Pancake beside Sir French Toast.”
The contents of a refrigerator might seem to be a placid lot, but not in this tale! These two friends turn into fierce competitors when it’s discovered — horrors! — that there’s only a single drop of syrup left! And both of them want it for themselves.
A galloping, careening race is on, up Potato Mash Mountain and through Chili Lagoon. Rappelling down linguini, sailing through soup, parachuting via lettuce leaf, these two run amok in an all-out sprint to that maple syrup bottle. Only to make a shocking discovery!
Josh Funk knows exactly how to tickle kids’ funny bones with his dancing rhyme, while Brendan Kearney’s energized, anthropomorphic fruits and veggies, broccoli forests and stinky Brussels sprouts rocket the mayhem up deliciously. A second episode featuring all these same foody-friends comes out this year, The Case of the Stinky Stench. Read this one with ages 3 and up, and get in line for the sequel.
Everyone Loves Bacon, written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Eric Wight
published in 2015 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Everyone loves bacon, and ol’ Mr. Bacon feels mighty smug about that. A bit hoity-toity. Lovin’ all that attention, you know.
As his celebrity star rises, Mr. Bacon becomes so obsessed with himself, he quite forgets his old friends back home. Who needs ’em? Bah! He’s got fans, my dear, fans!
Pride goeth before a fall, as the old proverb says, and in this case, Mr. Bacon finds out a bit too late that when everyone loves bacon…well…he’s just one mouthful away from a most startling finish!
Wight’s bold food portraits and that strutting Mr. Bacon blast off the pages in jazzy, retro style. A cautionary delight for ages 3 and up.
You can find more breakfast goodies on a post I wrote several years ago, here. Happy breakfasting!
On Monday’s blog I reviewed a number of trollish tales that anyone leaning Scandinavian won’t want to miss.
Today I’ve got a new edition of one of Neil Gaiman’s fantastic stories, as laden with Norseness as a bowl of rice pudding.
Odd and the Frost Giants, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
published in 2016 by Harper
This is the epic story of Odd, a young boy in medieval Norway who is fairly down on his luck. With his father drowned during a Viking raid, his leg lamed via a logging accident, his mom remarried to a lazy lout, and a long sluggish winter ahead cooped up with cranky villagers, Odd determines to hike into the forest and live independently in his father’s old hunting lodge.
Sooner than you can say Thor’s Hammer, though, Odd encounters a curious threesome — a fox, an eagle, and a bear. These three are definitely more than meets the eye. In fact, they’re Norse gods, transformed and deposed by some cunning, evil, Frost Giants.
Journey with Odd and his companions to Asgard to right the wrongs in this heroic tale brimming with cups of mead and tricksters tricked, frozen landscapes, a rainbow bridge, and the relentless pursuit of Beauty. Neil Gaiman is a storyteller for the ages, and he spins this one magnificently. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for ages 7 and up.
This edition, illustrated by Chris Riddell, was released last year. Riddell’s masterful ink drawings cast an enchanted, mythical sense. Burly bears, hook-beaked eagles,and tremendous, shaggy, frost giants leap off the pages. The black-and-white images are perfect for the icy setting. Some of the drawings are set on metallic silver paper — a sumptuous, Viking-esque touch. I adore this meeting of text and art.
In 2009, when the book was first published, Brett Helquist did the illustrations. His are extraordinary as well. Here’s a little glimpse of his work:
Whichever volume is accessible to you, then, do yourself a favor and dive into this extraordinary adventure.
Posted in fiction, graphic novels, picture books, tagged book reviews, children's literature, fairy tales, graphic novels, John Bauer, norse literature, picture books, Scandinavian children's books, trolls on February 27, 2017| 3 Comments »
I have long loved a good troll yarn. I guess it’s the ancient Viking blood in me! These massive, usually dim-witted creatures with any number of heads and toes, pop up everywhere in Norse folklore adding spice to the story and a golden opportunity for the illustrator!
Curiously enough, I’ve noticed a number of troll-festooned graphic novels emerging in the children’s lit world recently. I thought I’d alert you to them in case you share my fondness. Or not. Either way. Plus bring to light some older troll stories you might enjoy.
The Heartless Troll, written and illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
published in 2015 in Norway; first English edition 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books
First up is this graphic novel retelling loosely based on an old Norwegian fairytale called The Troll With No Heart In His Body.
As with many fairy tales it all starts with a king with a bunch of sons — in this case seven — the youngest of which is treated differently than his elder brethren. Prince Fred, the youngest in this household, has to watch his olders vault off on their fine steeds, decked out in resplendent clothes, set to find beautiful brides for themselves. And oh! they promise to fetch him one, too. But of course, an evil troll waylays them and turns them to stone.
Nothing for it but for Prince Fred to set off on an epic quest to free his brothers by destroying the troll’s heart. Problem is, that troll hasn’t got his heart in his body. THAT’s how nasty a fellow he is!
Fred, with the able assistance of a beautiful princess, an elephant, octopus, saxophone and much Bravery, manages everything in the end and he and the princess live happily ever after. Phew!
Torseter’s rendition is as quirky and casual as it comes with fairy tale elements and contemporary ingredients nestling happily cheek by jowl. A great spot of fun for ages 10 and up.
You can read a more traditional telling of this tale, as well as a number of other Norwegian troll tales in this book:
The Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls, from Norway, retold by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen
published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin
With an author and illustrator who share Norwegian heritage and make their homes among the exceedingly-trollish rocky landscapes of Minnesota’s North Shore (one of my favorite places on Earth), this collection of nine tales has a lovely authentic air. 96 pages long. It includes the most familiar, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Serious troll-lovers and fans of all things Nordic will enjoy this.
Hilda and the Stone Forest, written and illustrated by Luke Pearson
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books
Luke Pearson’s Hilda stories are marvelous, and immensely popular right now. About to come in animated form to Netflix, so they say.
The first book, introducing spunky Hilda, her mom, their pet fox, Twig, and their hauntingly-beautiful, fantasy-Norwegian homeland is, appropriately, Hilda and the Troll. I’ve reviewed it here. It really helps if you read it before launching into one of the later volumes.
In this their fifth adventure, Hilda, Mom, and Twig wind up accidentally whooshed into a mysterious forest occupied by — you guessed it — trolls. So. Many. Trolls. Yikes!
Escape is of the essence, but that is much, much easier said than done.
Run, clamber, dodge, sneak, and run faster in this breathless, dangerous episode. Sheer delight for a wide age range, about 7 to adult.
There’s always an individual in every crowd, and Bera is certainly that. Although she’s a troll, she’s a quiet, modest sort, glad to mind her own business and tend her pumpkin patch on a lonely, tiny island. Her boon companion is an owl named Winslowe.
One day Bera hears a raucous, most unpleasant uproar in the cove. Investigating, she’s shocked to see that a human baby has arrived, somehow, and is being most roughly treated by the nasty mer-trolls. Risking their wrath, Bera scoops up that baby and begins an epic adventure to try to return it to wherever it came from.
Bera’s journey is plagued by quite a passel of hideous creatures. Goblins! Wolves! A wretched witch! Goons! Thankfully, she is helped along the way by hedgehog wizards, kindly mice, and Nanna the Great.
By turns, Orchard’s tale is uncanny, menacing, warm-hearted, and heroic, just as all good fantasy should be! Great story for ages 8 and up.
In the Troll Wood, pictures by John Bauer, text by Lennart Rudström; English version by Olive Jones
first published in Sweden; English version 1978 by Methuen Children’s Books Ltd.
John Bauer was a Swedish artist known for his prolific work illustrating legends and fairy tales. He died, tragically, at age 36 in a shipwreck. That was in 1918.
This collection of some of his magnificent work is sadly out of print but a peek on Amazon shows there are a few floating around for sale.
Just take a look at these paintings:
The text tells little stories inspired by the pictures. It’s quite nicely done, with bits of juicy troll lore and outlandish goings-on. In one, an “ugly old woman with long greenish hair and only one tooth” accosts a young boy, only to fade into a twisted tree stump when he calls her bluff. In another, stubborn Grandpa Troll insists on heading out to steal a cow in wintertime although the hunting hounds are out and about. His tail pays a painful price!
My children would have loved this volume when they were quite young, despite the unusual format. We devoured Norse mythology and troll tales. If you can find a copy, try it with apt listeners ages 3 and up.
A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, paintings by Julie Downing
published in 1992 by Orchard Books
Finally, this picture book holds a delightful fantasy by the renowned Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s the story of a young girl whose brother is stolen by trolls!
With her father undone by despair, and her mother occupied with care of the new baby, it’s up to the girl to find and rescue her brother. She does this with the aide of her little Dalarna horse which magically comes to life in full, snorting, thundering glory!
Up the two of them venture to High House, the cavernous home of dozens and dozens of fiendish trolls where the girl has just one night to put their plan to work before the magic wears off.
She’s a brave one! And a clever one! And by day break (which if you know anything about trolls you know is a particularly momentous time) she’s snatched that brother of hers from the heart of troll land.
Paintings replete with ugly trolls, that beautiful red horse, and the cold stillness of a Norwegian winter, help bring this story to life. 48 pages. For brave 5 year olds and up.
I’ve reviewed a couple of other delightful troll stories in the past. My clear favorite is D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, reviewed here.
The D’Aulaire’s have also written and illustrated The Terrible Troll Bird, reviewed here.