This book deserved to be mentioned all on its own because it’s so enchanting and important for people to read. Language lovers will enjoy it, as will people who like to know what other people look like and wish to do with their lives, no matter how much time they may have left to live.
How Old Am I? 1–100 Faces from Around the World
JR, Inside Out Project, with words by Julie Pugeat
Touted as the “first-ever” children’s visual reference book on age, this is a delightful book showing that, with all our supposed differences, we generally want the same things. The first image is of a one-year-old girl named Gwen who was born in the United Kingdom and can crawl fast, say a few words, and loves to have books read to her. Each year the photo is of a person from a different country which is pointed out on a world map and each person is a year older. At the top of the left-hand page, the person greets the reader in whatever is the greeting of the culture. Readers who like to explore different languages will soon pick out similar words, for instance, the way that Muslim countries generally say some form of salam meaning peace. For Spanish-speaking countries, the greeting will be some variation on Hola meaning “hello.” The photos were taken by photographers from around the world involved in a project started by French photographer, JR, to make mural-type art of peoples’ images for his “Inside Out Project.” The book has information at the back about how the reader can be involved in the project. Teachers will happily use the book to discuss what the students wish to be when they are on their own and where they want to live and how they can help make lives easier for people in poor countries.
I’m tired of talking about humans, so I thought I’d talk about other species this week. And pardon me if I’ve already posted about these books. I don’t think I have, but they have been out for a few years. I’ve always been an animal lover, even having gotten over my primal fear of snakes after seeing them so frequently in our barn when we lived in Maryland. Most rodents do have their cute points. I mean, who doesn’t think rabbits are cute? Or squirrels with their impish natures.
A neighbor’s oldest child was always fond of our horses and I remember once she asked me if I could choose only one animal what would it be? I think she assumed it would be a horse and looked a bit crestfallen when I said a dog. At the time we had three horses, a dog, and a cat. Still, there is something regal and awkwardly graceful about a giraffe and certainly, lions are indeed imperious, but one can always cuddle with a dog.
First, we’re vising Nepal to learn some customs and meet a cute dog.
A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal
Margarita Engle, Amish Karanjit, Nicole Karanjit
Illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran
Written by the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, this story tells of a Nepalese holiday to honor animals. But this particular year, the Nepalese decided to honor the service dogs that had hunted through the rubble caused by a massive earthquake. Young Alu and Bhalu hunt for a stray dog to feed, finally finding a black puppy to take home. They feed their mother’s festival treats to the dog and everybody ends up happy. The tale is simply told and introduces the reader to Nepalese customs, especially through the lovely illustrations of typical rice paintings. Teachers might use the rice paintings as a way to understand another culture and how to paint with unusual substances. The book is also, in general, a good lead in discussing other cultures’ customs. A glossary at the end explains Nepalese words used in the story, such as the children’s names. The puppy is named Haku, which means black. And other activities featured during the festival are shown.
What fun to read about interesting animals and look at excellent photos of them. That’s what this series of books, “Amazing Animals”, tells the reader about. This particular book is about giraffes with lots of fascinating facts. The reader might have guessed that giraffes are the tallest land animal, measuring between but might not know that they have the longest tail of any land animal and an enormous blue-black tongue that they use to rip leaves off of trees. Or that they are so tall they could look into the second story window in a house. The photographs in the books are clear and beautiful, making the reader want to linger over each shot. The books in this series have some words in bold type to let the reader know a definition of the word is at the bottom of the page. Each book in the series has a short tale at the back. The giraffe’s story is why he ended up with such a long neck.
One of my favorite jokes is: King Lion awakes from his comfortable bed at the edge of the jungle feeling quite refreshed and arrogant. He marches out onto the plain and spies an elephant. The lion grabs the elephant by its trunk, swirls the poor animal over his head, slams him onto the ground. “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” he roars. The elephant scrambles to his feet and, with a shaky voice says, “Why you are, sir.” Lion beats all the animals into submission and they all agree that Lion is indeed king. That is until he grabs a little field mouse. He beats the mouse to a pulp almost taking off the poor creature’s left ear. “Who’s the king of the jungle?” Lion roars again.
The mouse shakes herself, scrambles to her feet says, “Yeah, but I’ve been sick.” Most people don’t understand the joke, but I just love the mouse’s moxy. Still, there is something so commanding in a lion’s demeanor, that they probably are considered the rulers of the jungle.
Do you remember when you were a child you had to face hard problems? At least they seemed hard to you. And you didn’t feel you had any support from the grownups who were supposed to take care of you and comfort you. That’s what these stories are about. Sometimes the support you didn’t think was there actually was, but you couldn’t feel it. Most of us really aren’t alone, but then some of us are. That’s what these books are about. I wish I could comfort the children and tell them that life is smooth sailing once you’re grown. Haven’t found that to be the case.
The first book takes place in a not so wealthy west African nation—Ghana—bordered by Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Women in particular must struggle to feed themselves and their children. Their female children more often than their male siblings are expected to leave school early to help with younger children and bring in money. If a girl is raped, she is more likely to be blamed rather than considered a victim. Actually, not too long ago the same was true in the U.S.A.
Even when Your Voice Shakes
Ruby Yayra Goka
Amerley’s goal is to have her own sewing machine so she can earn a living altering and making clothes to sell. Life in Ghana is hard. She has to quit school not because she wants to, but because she’s now the main supporter for her family. Her father has abandoned the family of four daughters for a woman who will bear him sons. And her mother is pining away, seeming to take no interest in how to pay for her daughters’ education. Amerley is sent to be a servant for a wealthy family in the city, theoretically with the promise that it will be only for a year. Then the family will get her into the respected fashion design school. While she’s there, she is raped and beaten by the older son. Thanks to the family she helps out with their baby two times a week, the crime is sent to the courts, and Amerley’s abuser lands in jail. Amerley’s story resonates with other girls and young women who have been assaulted, who then speak up about their experiences. As is the case in many places around the world, the women who’ve been abused are considered to be somehow provocative and deserving of their mistreatment. There are many good teaching points in this well-written book, especially about the culture of Ghana, however, it would have been nice to have more clarity as to the meaning of Ghanian words that are used throughout the story. There is a glossary at the back, which is helpful. Amerley is taken under the wing of the woman whose baby she watches a couple of days a week and ends up becoming a lawyer.
BIBLIO: 2021, Acord Books/Norton Young Readers/W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 14+, $18.95.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us. Whether or not you feel you have to follow the orders to get vaccinated or wear a mask, it has been hard to stay isolated and not interact with your friends. This applies to all of us. This book is about families in an apartment building and how they cope, or don’t cope, with the isolation. I know I have a hard time putting on a cheery face all the time. Can you imagine not having anybody to support or comfort you?
Sunny Days Inside and other Stories
This is a delightful series of stories about children and their families being shut in because of COVID-19. The families live in the same apartment building and the stories are titled by the apartment number where the family lives. In the title story, “Sunny Days Inside,” sisters in apartment 4A cheer up their mother who is depressed because they have to cancel their vacation. The twin boys in 2D pretend to be cavemen children for a school project about something historical. They practice living like cavemen including making up their own language. In apartments 3D and 4B, Juliet helps her neighbor, Reo by timing him while he runs laps on his balcony. In 3C Conner discovers he misses his teacher and helps his dad overcome depression. In apartment 1C Louis helps his mom’s hair salon keep afloat by setting up a business plan where she can do “virtual” hair cuts and styling and he begins his own business to keep the family dog from being too overweight. For a school project, Jessica of 2A learns sign language and strikes up a friendship with the deaf Meena of 2C. Together they save old Ms. Watts who becomes ill in her apartment. The final story has all the children sneak out of the building and take a walk after dark. They meet Ms. Watts relaxing after her stay in the hospital. There are a lot of good discussion points for teachers and parents to use to promote discussions about how we can all get through this ongoing pandemic.
BIBLIO: 2021, Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade fiction
Have you ever felt that people you love and look to for support really aren’t on your side? That they are keeping truths from you? I’m sure we all have. But running away, tempting though it may be, is not the answer.
Maisie lives with her parents at the family’s art business. Dad is the painter and Mom handles the business end of things. Maisie does the initial drawings and sketches for whatever portrait has been commissioned. Maisie’s older brother, Calum, ran away several years earlier without so much as a goodbye to her. As far as Maisie knows no-one has a clue where he is. All of a sudden Maisie’s life is uprooted and she’s shipped off to Scotland to spend the summer with an aunt she didn’t know she had. Once there, she discovers that Calum has been living in Scotland and now London, England, having nothing to do with art. He comes to Scotland to see her and then she ends up running away from her aunt to stay with her brother and convince him to help the foundering family business. As usual, things don’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped. And it turns out her brother has not ignored art, but instead does artwork with his partner, Benji, by painting approved pictures on London walls. To add to all this Maisie is slower in her physical changes than her best friend. The story makes a number of good points about dealing with one’s emotions and understanding that truth is what makes us different. Maisie and Calum end up with a plan to save the family business and heal the rift between Calum and their parents. Teachers can use the book to spark discussions about family relations and sexual preferences and the changing dynamics of friendships.
BIBLIO: 2021, Jolly Fish Press/North Star Editions, Inc., Ages 8 to 14, $9.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction
Hope you all are doing well and at least being able to get a bit of your lives back to what you consider normal. I’m working on my YA novel, “Bad Hair Day”, my chapter book, “Excuse Me, Is this Yours?”, starting on a new short story for the next issue of Next Chapter Literary Magazine, and doing final revisions—I hope—on a short story titled “Thunderstorm.” Please drop me a line if you’re in the mood.
Never lose faith in yourself or lose your ability to laugh at yourself or the world around you. After having hit you with two weeks of more serious books, I thought we’d all enjoy some more on the lighthearted side. Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more months of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.
Each of us has some kind of superpower, even we don’t think we’re anything but ordinary. For instance, there’s Arnold. I’ve grown rather fond of him.
Arnold the Super-ish Hero
Illustrated by Guillaume Perreault
Most people feel inadequate in some way or another, but all are superheroes in their own way. Perhaps one could feel sorry or embarrassed for Arnold, who comes from a family of superheroes since he doesn’t seem to have a single extraordinary skill. He can’t lift very heavy objects like a firetruck, let alone with just one finger. Nor can he fly at lightning speed or bounce high enough to leap over tall buildings. Arnold, however, is quite good at answering the phone. But one day when the phone rings, nobody else can come to the rescue. It is up to Arnold to save the day and the city and the people. And in his small, ordinary way, he does just that. The moral of this charming story is that we all have superhero talents, even if it doesn’t seem that way. The illustrations are perfect for the story and perfect for any superhero. Teachers will be able to encourage all their students to have confidence in themselves.
BIBLIO: 2021, Kids Can Press, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
What kid hasn’t played with the food? Have you ever watched the “Christmas Story” about Raphie’s time of wanting a bb gun? And how his younger brother, Randy, won’t eat his dinner until his mother lets him play with it. That scene of the boy with mashed potatoes all over his face and in his hair and on his bib is hilarious.
Bunny! Don’t Play with Your Food.
Illustrated by Paul Schmid
Children and the grown-ups will find this book amusing. The children because they’ll see they’re not the only ones who play with their food and have great imaginations. Grown-ups will smile affectionately because the book will remind them of their bunnies. The bunny in question makes his carrot snack into a Bunnysaur and eats the green stuff at the top as a dinosaur might. As a tiger might, this bunny can attack a tasty “Carrotpotomus,” or defeat the evil space beings in the Carrotship or be the zombie bunny, that is until Mom orders him to just eat his food and not play with it. Bunny, of course, says he is eating. He’s just having a bit of fun while he does eat. The story would most likely encourage even the pickiest of eaters to try a new food if allowed to use his/her imagination while doing so. The illustrations are whimsical and cute. Parents could use this book to discuss how food can be fun.
BIBLIO: 2021, Andrew McMeel Publishing/Andrew McMeel Universal, Ages 3 to 5, $8.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Board Book
I used to have an excellent memory. My husband says he relies on me to be his “cloud,” but of late I’m warning him that his cloud is dissipating.
Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot
Illustrated by Isobel Lundie
The embarrassment of it all! Elephants are supposed to remember everything, right? Not Edmund. His mother encourages him to sing her special song so he won’t forget and then she sends him off to collect the supplies for his brother’s birthday party. He’s sure he’ll get everything she told him to get because he’ll sing the song she taught him. Do you think it helps? Do you think he remembers everything? Follow along in the book and see what happens. Even though his friend Colin the Cricket tries to help Edmund, things do not turn out as planned. The young elephant proudly marches off pulling his little yellow wagon sure he’s going to get everything his mother told him to, but when he reaches for his list, he discovers he’s left it at home. That’s alright, he’ll just sing the song and then he’ll remember. His brother ends up with a very unique birthday party. The reader should try to spot Colin in each picture. Teachers can use the book as a way to teach young children tricks for how to remember things. The illustrations are sweet and whimsical.
BIBLIO: 2021, Scribblers/Salariya, Ages 3 to 6, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
Happy Groundhog Day. I hope you’re bracing for 6 more weeks of winter weather. Though, here in Coastal North Carolina, I do hope no more snow or ice. Stay safe where ever you are. And laugh a lot.