What Miss Mitchell Saw

I love the current trend of infusing lyrical storytelling into non-fiction picture books. In picture book biographies, it is also becoming more common to feature people that history has previously ignored.

What Miss Mitchell Saw, written by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, demonstrates all that is lovely in this golden age of children’s non-fiction. The poetic text is as lovely on the ears as the gorgeous illustrations are on the eyes. The story in and of itself is wonderful, and I consider it a bonus that my children and I could learn about real-life astronomer Maria Mitchell while enjoying a compelling story about a woman who bucked the conventions of her time.

I recommend this beautiful picture book for all ages, though I would suggest the target age is 6-10 years old. What Miss Mitchell Saw would make a lovely accompaniment to a history study (particularly during Women’s History Month) or a unit on astronomy.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Confession: I read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart in May of 2019. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t think of how I could adequately do it justice in a blog post. To the point that I went through a freeze in writing any blog posts at all.

I still feel this way. So rather than share a synopsis, I want you to know this book has all the feels and moved me in a way no other novel has. Readers will find hope, despair, adventure, intense friendship, humor, community, and even a goat on a bus. Most of all, they will find love. Love for those we have lost and love for those we have now.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If it were up to me, I would cover it with every award sticker for which it is eligible. This middle grade novel is probably best for ages ten and up, and I do mean “and up” – this one is for readers of all ages.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar

It’s a good sign any time my kids ask me to re-read a book as soon as I finish it the first time. Adding a little science in the text makes it even better. Top it all off with a protagonist who reminds me of Mo Willems’ Pigeon, and the book must be a winner.

The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach is a laugh-out-loud story of metamorphosis. In a classic case of “Is it ready yet?”, an impatient caterpillar doesn’t think he can hold out for two whole weeks in his chrysalis to become a butterfly. Much hilarity ensues as he tries to talk himself up to complete his mission.

The text is simple while seamlessly incorporating sophisticated vocabulary, such as metamorphosize and chrysalis. The vivid illustrations provide additional humor to the story. (See the spread with the squirrel overhearing the caterpillar arguing with himself, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!)

The Very Impatient Caterpillar is a wonderful choice for all ages, but I think it is particularly suited for ages 6-8. For younger children, it is a humorous and simple introduction to the concept of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. For older children, it would make a light-hearted read-aloud supplement to any scientific metamorphosis study.

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This book confronts the difficult realities of poor, homeless children in India, much as Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water did for showing readers the lives of young people who don’t have access to clean water.

Main character Viji persuades her disabled sister Rukku to run away with her, in order to escape their abusive father. With nowhere to go and no one to run to, they are homeless children in a big city and face dangers at every turn. After befriending a loving, stray dog, the girls look for shelter. They have the good fortune of bumping into Arul and Muthu, two young boys in circumstances similar to theirs, but who have more knowledge about the workings of the big city.

The four children and the dog quickly unite to become their own family. They work together, often scouring for recyclables in the city’s massive trash heaps. Loyal to one another, they pool their resources together and share all their earnings, food, and supplies. I appreciated how Venkatraman highlights the children’s pride in earning their keep – they don’t want charitable handouts from anyone.

The Bridge Home is ultimately an urban survival story for a middle grade audience. Venkatraman masterfully portrays the atrocities of the children’s lifestyle while also making it appropriate for younger readers. Though fictional, elements of the novel are based on true stories, and this book could be used to initiate discussion about how many children around the world live incredibly difficult lives. I think The Bridge Home is probably best for ages 10-14, due to the difficult life circumstances of the children, but mature eight- and nine-year-olds may handle it all right.

Is 2 A Lot?

I love numbers, patterns, and all things mathematical. (Which is a good thing. I studied math for ten additional years after high school!) I find that picture books incorporating math can be hit or miss, but I love the ones that do it well, especially those that present complex concepts for young readers in unique ways. Is 2 A Lot? (written by Annie Watson and illustrated by Rebecca Evans) does a fabulous job of conveying how numbers take on even greater meaning when we attach units to them.

While driving to their destination, Joey has a lot of questions for his mommy. To kick things off, he wants to know if two is a lot. Mommy’s answer is thoughtful. “Well, two is not a lot of pennies… but it is a lot of smelly skunks.” And so begins the journey to determine how much is a lot.

Watson has written a clever text that is beautifully structured and maximizes the effect of page turns. Evans’ illustrations are full of life, with some of the action scenes including multiple panels, as in a comic book.

Is 2 A Lot? is an excellent choice for kids ages 3-7. The beauty of this book is that while it is centered on a mathematical principle, it doesn’t come across as a book on math. I think kids would enjoy this story as a supplement to a classroom math study, but equally as a bedtime story.

Underwear

Bare bear is missing something… his underwear. His dad points out it’s over there, on the chair. This premise – the evergreen battle of parents trying to get their kids to bed – kicks off Jenn Harney’s comical picture book, Underwear.

With an ongoing rhyming scheme that seems to include all words rhyming with “bear,” Underwear is fun to read aloud. The pre-bed synopsis makes it a great choice to read before tucking your own kids into bed, with one caveat: all the giggles may have the opposite effect you wanted and make it more difficult for your kids to snuggle into their covers. It’s worth it.

We read this book multiple times in my house, and it garnered laughs each time. Harney’s illustrations add another layer of humor and energy to the clever text. If you’re looking for a quick and funny picture book to enjoy with little ones, I recommend Underwear. I suspect the target audience is ages 2-6, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it with older kids, because Underwear is entertaining for all ages.

A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

Although I have traveled to many areas in the contiguous United States and various countries in Europe, I have never been to New York City. After reading A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park by Ashley Benham Yazdani, I would love to visit the Big Apple and see this world-famous park.

Yazdani does a wonderful job of bringing to life the historical account of Central Park’s inception and construction. She includes interesting facts without bogging down the reader with too much technical terminology or trivial information. The illustrations are full of life, making the historical scenes appear fresh and present. From the broad, lush landscapes to the complete survey of the various bridges inside the park, the detailed illustrations are a feast for the eyes, welcoming multiple readings.

I recommend A Green Place to Be for readers who are looking for a beautifully illustrated slice-of-history story. It will probably be best for ages 6-10, though I do think artists of all ages will enjoy the beautiful illustrations.

Poetree

Poetree, written by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds and illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani, is a sweet friendship story that melds a love of poetry and a love of nature. Young Sylvia writes poems that she then takes to her friend, the birch tree. She never imagined the tree might write back.

And so begins the origin of the Poetree. In what appears to be a magical exchange of verse, Sylvia leaves poems with the tree and receives poems in return. When Sylvia finally discovers the truth behind her leafy pen pal, she has difficulty hiding her disappointment, but soon finds she may have made a new and unexpected friend after all.

Maydani’s lovely illustrations create a serene and gentle mood. Young readers would enjoy creating poems and illustrations of trees, flowers, birds, and other natural scenes after reading this lovely story.

I think Poetree is best for ages 4-8, though older kids will likely enjoy the story as well. There are many useful teaching tie-ins, including the topics of poetry, nature, and friendship.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is my favorite book of 2018 (adult or children’s), and one of my favorite children’s novels of all time. The themes are timeless, the story is riveting, and the writing is beautiful. I believe this book will stand the test of time – a modern classic indeed.

Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep in Victorian London. Although she is old by chimney sweep standards (not yet a teenager), she is one of the best in the business. She knows how to navigate the treacherous flues in London homes, and has managed to stay unscathed in a profession that regularly claims the lives of its young workers. Until the day she gets stuck.

When a fellow sweep uses the “Devil’s Nudge” tactic of lighting a fire in the chimney to, shall we say, encourage her to break free, Nan finds herself trapped in a chimney fire and figures death is imminent. She blacks out, and when she wakes, she is not injured … and not alone. A creature made of ash and soot, called a golem, has rescued Nan, and is, in fact, her monster.

As others have noted, Sweep has a Dickensian feel to it, highlighting the terrible and brutal conditions that children endured as chimney sweeps. I honestly had no idea that children were used in this way,  and I suspect many contemporary readers share this ignorance. I commend Auxier for not shying away from the disturbing truth, but rather mining for the glimmer of hope in a hopeless existence.

Sweep received a lot of accolades, and it deserves every one. I would have gladly bestowed all the stars and awards it could possibly earn. I highly recommend this book for ages 10 and up, though 12 and up may be more appropriate for sensitive readers.

Scranimals

Every year, my family does something to celebrate D.E.A.R. Day. (Drop Everything And Read was first mentioned in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and is now observed on April 12, Cleary’s birthday.) This year, we did a Library Bingo of sorts, where we selected one book in each of 10 genres. With it also being National Poetry Month, one of our categories was poetry. While in the juvenile poetry section at our library, we stumbled on Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis.

While familiar with both Prelutsky and Sis, I had never heard of Scranimals, but it looked fun enough, and we gave it a try. It turned into a quick favorite. Each spread features a “scranimal” – an creature made of a mash up of animals, vegetables, and fruit, such as a Spinachicken, or my favorite, the Avocadodo. Scranimals reads well as a picture book as there is a hint of story arc to it, but you can certainly choose to read the poems of one or two creatures if you prefer to not read it all in one sitting.

Nothing about this book is serious or stuffy. The illustrations are fun, the poems are witty.  It’s playful poetry at its best, and of course, Prelutsky does it masterfully. I recommend this book for kids of all ages, but especially for those ages 4-8.