For the last few years, we have been honored to be among the faculty at a Highlights Foundation workshop called Everything You Need to Know About Children’s Book Publishing: A Crash Course. It’s the perfect workshop for the true beginner, and this year’s will take place from September 19-21. You can register here or find out more here.
Below are the reviews I wrote for the March issue of Parents Express (Philadelphia.)
Nonfiction continues to flourish and one of my favorite categories, picture book biographies, just gets better and better. People written about previously receive imaginative and skillful new treatments and others’ accomplishments are brought to light for the first time for a young audience. This is especially true of women and so we’re honoring Women’s History Month with these three life stories in picture book format.
Dare the Wind, written by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, hardcover, $17.99, ages 5-10
Growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts Ellen Prentiss loved the sea and learned the sea becoming adept not only at sailing but navigation as well. She married a sea captain and the two sailed together with Ellen as navigator at a time when it was unheard of for women to do so. In 1851 the couple took command of a clipper ship slated for a journey from New York around Cape Horn to San Francisco carrying passengers and cargo to the Gold Rush. Lively language and dynamic art bring this ocean adventure to life. McCully’s signature watercolor and ink illustrations put readers in the middle of the vast and dangerous sea but also show intimate views of Ellen at work, capturing the courage, skill and daring that allowed the Flying Cloud to make its journey in record time.
Florence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi, Henry Holt/Macmillan, hardcover, $17.99, ages 6-10
Florence Nightingale heard her calling as a nurse while still young, though her wealthy parents didn’t think it was a proper field for a young lady. She used her ability to travel extensively to learn about nursing and hygiene and was methodical with her reports and suggestions. It took time and perseverance but Florence was eventually regarded as a resource by the British government. She began a training school for nurses, her work inspired the Red Cross and she provided the Union government with advice about army field medicine. Her accomplishments were many and all are presented in a straightforward clear narrative for young readers. Demi’s rich and detailed but uncluttered art aptly extends the text, portraying the unhygienic conditions and the changes Nightingale championed. This is a well-crafted narrative about an important participant in medical history.
The Tree Lady, written by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $16.99, ages 5-8
As a young girl growing up in Northern California Kate Sessions loved science and nature and, in particular, trees. She followed that love of science eagerly into school and was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science. She moved to San Diego and taught briefly, but then began a nursery with the goal of turning the desert town green. Hunting trees that would grow in the arid climate—Yucca, Jacaranda, Bristlecone Pine—residents bought and planted them so that green soon dotted the landscape. The great Panama-California Exposition was coming to San Diego in 1915 and Kate organized volunteers to plant trees in Balboa Park adding beauty and shade. The breezy text reflects Session’s positive attitude and joy in her work. The arresting cover art will pull readers in immediately and the interiors will captivate too. A grand introduction to the woman who earned the name “Mother of Balboa Park.”
Review copies are provided by publishers, borrowed from our local library, or are personal copies.
SO sorry to read in Publishers Weekly just now that we have lost Eric Blegvad. He enriched my reading of so very many books with his tiny, detailed illustrations. Here’s a favorite of mine, from the book Seasons, by Charlotte Zolotow. I really want to live in this sweet little house.
Emily Sharpe of Open Road Media sent us this GREAT video today…we are extra-excited about the awards because we’re all going to be there IN PERSON on Monday!
P.S. Laurina is Tomie’s biggest fan…
I met a kindred spirit the other day.
I was having lunch with Lindsay Barrett George and there was a sweet old lady at the next table. Apparently she overheard us talking about children’s books because she said, “Excuse me. May I interrupt you? You see, my name is like Anne of Green Gables, only backwards.”
Delighted, I asked her, “So, you are SHIRLEY ANNE?!”
“Yes!” she said, thrilled that I KNEW. She let me take her picture and give her a kiss on the cheek before we left.
I always expect magic encounters in October. As Anne says:
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”
I just got back from spending the weekend with some wonderful writers at the Highlights Foundation’s conference center in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains. Fellow faculty members Harold Underdown and Tanya Anderson were SO great and informative, and our students were eager and attentive. Add to that the amazing fall weather and it was just a perfect weekend!
Wow, did I enjoy this book! It’s about a girl with Asperger’s syndrome, but don’t let that fact fool you into thinking it’s an “issue” book. It’s a good story about friendship, about fitting in, about juggling family and school scenarios – just like so many other great middle grade books. Yes, we do learn more about Asperger’s while reading about Kiara, but the writing is so natural! I really “pulled” for Kiara as she learned about and forged ahead with her unique abilities.
When we are at the library or shopping in bookstores, we love to scan the display tables to see how long it takes us to find a book that we are somehow involved with. Sometimes it’s a client’s book, and sometimes we have to reach for a connection…we call it the “six degrees of separation” game.
Anyway, Laurina is visiting the fabulous Northshire Bookstore in Vermont and sent in this photo of a book we did the website for: Pride and Prejudice and Kitties, by Pamela Jane and Deborah Guyol. Right up front by the register!
I haven’t posted book reviews in quite a while, though I write them every month. Bobbie began writing reviews for the Parents Express 30 years ago! Now I write them though she helps out when I’m in a bind, as she did for these.
if you want to see a whale, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, $16.99, hardcover, ages 2-6.
This latest creation by the team that gifted us with And Then It’s Spring is another quiet picture book and an astonishing one. As someone who has seen whales and been humbled at the experience, the art and story here leave me breathless. In lovely, poetic language a young boy, accompanied by his hound dog and small bird, tells readers what’s required to see a whale, remaining focused and not distracted by wonders like pink roses, pirate ships, clouds, and “things that are smaller than most small things can’t be as giant as a whale.” Pacing and layout, use of white space and expanse of color all exemplify the needed patience and wondrous reward at the close. The illustrations done in linoleum-block prints and colored pencil detail and amplify, but never overshadow, the words. You’ll want to carry this book with you all the time for those moments when you feel you MUST read it AGAIN
Prairie Chicken Little, written by Jackie Mims Hopkins and illustrated by Henry Cole, Peachtree Publishers, hardcover $15.95, ages 3-7.
The very best read-alouds are the ones where it’s as much fun for the reader as it is for the listener. (Dr. Seuss may be the gold standard, but it’s not exactly easy for a parent to read his tongue-twisting text aloud.) This book IS fun to read aloud – the author is a storyteller and it shows. The story of Mary McBlicken the prairie chicken practically tells itself; smooth rhythms, clever word-play and a Western “flavor” make this re-telling fresh. Cole’s illustrations add to the fun, especially the wide panic-filled eyes of chicken and friends, the sharp-toothed smile of the sly coyote and the ponderous stares of the bison herd who calmly watch the story unfold..
Ol’ Mama Squirrel, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Penguin Young Readers Group, hardcover $16.99, ages 3-7.
The newest picture book by the author/illustrator of Interrupting Chicken is a new and humorous variation on an old theme: the fierce love of a mother for her children. Ol’ Mama Squirrel, who has raised many babies, says “There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel…but it won’t happen on my watch!” With a stern and scolding tone, she chases away predators: “Chook, chook, chook!” she warns a cat, an owl and a dog. But one afternoon, when a grizzly bear comes calling, she’s forced to call in the reserves. Stein draws the squirrel family with a playful, deft touch that highlights the humor and reassures listeners that all will turn out all right.
These reviews originally appeared in the print and online versions of the Philadelphia Parents Express for June 2013.
Today the Supreme Court overturned DOMA…and I’m grateful to live in an America where Liza and Annie can get legally married and live happily ever after!
Thank you, Nancy Garden, for writing the book that first validated my own dreams of happily-ever-after, all those years ago.