A common theme of this week’s titles is a well-told story revolving around books and reading to take readers on imaginative adventures, to whet the appetite for more books, and to kindle the desire to share the joy of reading with others. As book lovers, we know the power of books, but these works of literature bring home that belief and will inspire others.
Book Uncle and Me. Uma Krishnaswami. Ill. Julianna Swaney. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Nine-year-old Yasmin considers Book Uncle’s Lending Library on the corner of St. Mary’s Road and 1st Cross Street to be the best library in all of India. His sign reads, “Books. Free. / Give One. / Take One. / Read-read-read.” For Yasmin, who intends to read one book every day, forever, Book Uncle’s motto, “Right book for the right person for the right day” is perfect. And so, when the mayor shuts down Book Uncle’s bookstand for not having a permit, which he can’t afford, Yasmin knows she must do something. Inspired by the old Indian folk tale that Book Uncle selected for her, she enlists her friends, neighbors, and the entire community in what becomes a political campaign to oust Mayor S.L. Yogaraja (Mayor SLY) and elect a new mayor sympathetic to the importance of Book Uncle’s library to the town. This short chapter book offers a gentle lesson on how the initiative of one child may be an influence for change in a community.
Dragon Was Terrible. Kelly DiPucchio. Ill. Greg Pizzoli. 2016. Farrar Straus Giroux.
A chatty unseen narrator tells the tale of a “super terrible” (but, as the cartoon illustrations show, cute rather than fearsome) dragon, whose behavior in the kingdom becomes so intolerable that the king finally declares, “Enough!” and posts a reward for taming the terrible dragon. As knights and then “ordinary blokes and lassies” from the kingdom fail, the dragon becomes even more terrible (popping birthday balloons, painting graffiti on the drawbridge, and burping in church) until a young boy comes up with a clever dragon-taming plan involving a good book. His reward: a new friend—“A nice dragon, of course.”
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog. Lisa Papp. 2016. Peachtree.
Madeline Finn does not like to read, especially out loud, because “sometimes the sentences get stuck in my mouth like peanut butter.” Although she desperately wants a star from her teacher for being a good reader, she gets only “Keep Trying” stickers. One day at the library, she meets Bonnie, a big white dog who encourages Madeline to patiently keep practicing. When she’s stuck on a word, Bonnie puts her big paws in Madeline’s lap and lets the young girl pet her until she figures it out. Every Saturday, Madeline returns to read to Bonnie. One day, when her teacher asks her to read aloud in class, Madeline pretends that she is reading to Bonnie, and she earns her first star. The realistic illustrations, rendered in watercolor, pencil, and digital coloring, capture the emotions of Madeline as she gains in experience and confidence through sharing stories with a library dog.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read. Curtis Manley. Ill. Kate Berube. 2016. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.
Nick loves to read. He wants his cats, Verne and Stevenson, to read with him, but they won’t. He even makes word flashcards to hook them. It’s only after Nick prints “Fish” that Verne is interested, practices reading words every day, and even gets his own library card. When Nick finds Stevenson’s secret stash of drawings, Verne and he write the narrative for a pirate story, The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold, and Stevenson becomes a reader, too. Wanting to have someone read aloud to him, Nick says to his cats, “Maybe I should teach you how to speak…How hard could that be?” Expressive, gently humorous illustrations, rendered in ink, Flashe paint, and acrylic paint, catch the spirit of Nick, his cats, and the joy of reading.
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar. Emily MacKenzie. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Ralfy, a prolific reading rabbit, “borrows” most of his books from people’s homes while they are sleeping. When he takes young Arthur’s favorite book, The Biggest Book of Monsters Ever, something must be done. After using his surveillance kit to catch Ralfy in action, Arthur reports the robbery to Officer Puddle only to be met with laughter until Ralfy pops up later in the officer’s home looking for more books. After identifying Ralfy in a hysterically funny lineup, Arthur comes up with a solution: They become book buddies at the public library, where books can always be borrowed (but must be returned). The cartoonlike artwork and clever wordplay (“Officer Puddle…told him he had caught the culprit read-handed!”) of this humorous picture book will delight young readers.
A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. Ill. Sam Winston. 2016. Candlewick.
A young girl sitting aboard a raft reading a book identifies herself: “I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories.” She floats across a sea of words (lines from classic stories such as The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Gulliver’s Travels) to arrive at the home of a boy, who she invites to join her in an adventure around the world, scaling mountains, discovering treasure in a dark cave, playing in forests of fairy tales, escaping monsters in haunted castles, sleeping in clouds of lullabies, and shouting in outer space before finally ending in an explosion of colorful objects and characters from stories as they spin on a globe. She ends with an invitation to explore the imaginative power of reading books. The titles of all the books that are used in the typographically created landscape the children travel through are listed on the endpapers.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone. Delia Sherman. 2016. Candlewick.
In this unusual hero cycle story, 12-year-old Nick runs away from his cruel uncle and cousin and right into Evil Wizard Smallbone and his magical bookstore, where he becomes an unwilling apprentice who grudges through each day doing anything but magic. After failed attempts to escape from Smallbone, Nick forms a bond with the bookstore and teaches himself magic by reading the books it systematically nudges his way. He realizes that there is something desperately wrong in Smallbone Cove—with breaches in its magically protected boundaries by Smallbone’s archrival, the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and comes up with a solution. There is a magical twist, however, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last word of this satisfying fantasy.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard (Peter Nimble Adventure #2). Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Quire, who lives a quiet life repairing books in her father’s bookstore, is worried about upcoming Pyre Day, on which Inquisitor Prigg intends to rid the town of Bustleburg of “nonsense” by burning all storybooks, when a strange blindfolded boy, Peter Nimble, and his furry, enchanted companion, Sir Tode, show up with a mysterious book, The Book of Who, in need of mending. Following clues from the magical book, Sophie and Peter, pursued by Inquisitor Prigg and his henchman, Torvald Knucklemeat, set out to find the book’s companion volumes (The Book of What, The Book of Where, and The Book of When). This fast-paced, action-packed adventure, in which Sophie must find and protect the books that contain all the magic that ever existed and use them to save stories and the world, ends with the promise of more adventure as she leaves a note on her work bench: “My tale is not yet told. I will return. Fondly, Sophie Quire, the Last Storyguard.”
The Most Frightening Story Ever Told. Philip Kerr. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Twelve-year-old Billy Shivers, recovering from a car accident, spends his days at the Hitchcock Public Library until he discovers the creepy Haunted House of Books and its thematic rooms rigged with spooky traps. Billy soon convinces the owner, eccentric Mr. Rapscallion, to take him on as an unpaid apprentice. When Billy accompanies him to a conference, a child psychologist proposes that Mr. Rapscallion read a terrifying old manuscript to children at his bookstore so she can study how they respond. He agrees to combine this experiment with a midnight reading of the scariest-story-ever-written-in-the-whole-history-of-the-world contest as publicity for his bookstore and chooses five children (with Billy as one of them) to compete to win $1,000. After four of the contestants scurry out during the night, Billy is declared the winner. With the bookstore saved, Mr. Rapscallion attempts to deliver the prize money to Billy only to uncover an unbelievable secret. Young readers will be intrigued by short, scary stories that are interspersed throughout the novel.
The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1). Traci Chee. 2016. Putnam/Penguin.
Sefia has been on the run with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered. When her aunt is kidnapped, Sefia goes on the hunt for her and the truth about her father’s death, with only a knapsack holding a wrapped package, a book. Unbeknownst to her, she is pursued by assassins working for a secret society that wants the book returned at any cost. Sefia frees an imprisoned mute boy, and surviving brutal circumstances, they become a team. Although she grew up in a society in which literacy is banned, Sefia teaches herself to read the book, and finds herself caught up in complex stories of pirates and others she doesn’t understand. As she reads to the boy, Sefia eventually discovers they are in a just-in-time magical story that is unfolding before her eyes (literally). In this multilayered novel with three shifting time frames and things that are most likely not what they seem, Sefia learns secrets about her parents, herself, and her world as she negotiates through a dystopian landscape where forbidden words control the future.
Every Exquisite Thing. Matthew Quick. 2016. Little, Brown.
Privileged senior Nanette O’Hare is a college-bound dutiful daughter, straight-A student, and soccer star, but after she reads the mysterious cult classic The Bubblegum Reaper that her favorite teacher, Mr. Graves, gives her, she changes her life 180 degrees and becomes a rebel misfit. When her relationships with her parents, whose marriage is failing, and friends, from whom she alienates herself, spiral out of control, Nanette seeks out the author, Nigel Booker, for answers to questions the book has aroused in her. He won’t answer them but instead points her toward other writers. He also introduces her to a troubled young poet, Alex, with whom she falls in love. Together Nanette and Alex, along with a young boy they befriend, attempt to solve the mystery of why Booker wrote the book in the first place. Twists and turns in the labyrinth of self-discovery lead to tragedy, guilt, and, ultimately, to Nanette discovering her authentic self and what it is that she wants in her future.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
Educators don’t have just literature on their shelves. They also have books that help readers understand and appreciate books and their creators; books that serve as guides to the selection and use of literature in classrooms and libraries; and books that remind us of the importance of reading and the joy that books can bring to the lives of readers of all ages.
Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box. Leonard S. Marcus (Ed.). 2016. Candlewick.
According to Leonard Marcus, writer and historian of children’s literature, the influence of comics is stronger than ever. In an introductory short history of cartoons and comic books, he describes the rise of the graphic novel to its current status as a 21st-century comic. This fascinating documentary includes interviews in a Q&A format with 13 creative and diverse graphic novelists and artists accompanied by a sample of a work in progress and an original graphic short treatment about “the city” created for inclusion in Comics Confidential. My favorite interview is with Gene Luen Yang, who was born in 1973 in California to Chinese immigrants. Geeky as a child and adolescent, he graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science and a minor in creative writing. Creating satirical stereotypes in his first book, American Born Chinese (2006), Yang addressed issues of racial identity and immigration while he played with new elements of visual story narrative. In his subsequent books and projects, he has continued to develop his art technique, research procedure, and storytelling narrative strategies. He created “Berkeley, California” as a short comic for this book. Comics Confidential is an informative and inspiring book for anyone who wants to learn more about the creative process of this revolutionary mode of visual storytelling.
Every Young Child a Reader: Using Marie Clay’s Key Concepts for Classroom Instruction. Sharan A. Gibson & Barbara Moss. 2016. Teachers College.
Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing after her death in 2007, New Zealand’s Marie Clay, a developmental psychologist and literacy development expert, has transformed how young readers are taught through applications of her transformative literacy processing theory via Reading Recovery and other programs. Gibson and Moss revisit Clay’s four essential principles: literacy processing is complex, there is a reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, continuous text exposure is essential to reading development, and experiencing diverse text complexity is necessary for the development of higher level literacy skills. The authors present differentiated teaching applications for individual learners within whole-class, small-group, and occasional one-on-one instruction, along with examples such as a detailed description of an interactive read-aloud with teacher questioning. They discuss the importance of integrated cross-disciplinary literacy instruction, exposure to informational texts, participation in thematic units, and the conducting of research projects in the building of knowledge by students. An epilogue challenges teachers, as educational leaders, to take action based on Clay’s principles to build comprehensive literacy programs to develop children who are strong readers and writers.
Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers. Kathleen T. Isaacs. 2016. American Library Association.
Young, eager readers read at an early age, employ multiple reading strategies, may develop unique reading interests, read three to four times more than most children, and are most likely to become voracious lifelong readers. Isaacs considers ways in which teachers, librarians, and families can help these children overcome two major challenges: to find enjoyable and interesting reading materials that meet their special reading interests and to select books that are developmentally appropriate. Isaacs offers an informative look at her research, describes how she chose the books she recommends, and explores the topic of “What Makes a Good Children’s Book and What Makes a Good Book for a Young Reader?” Through conversations and interviews with parents, booksellers, teachers, and librarians, Isaacs gathered information about early and eager readers—their similarities and differences and their reading preferences. Her findings resulted in this book, in which she recommends a mix of 300 old and new titles for eager readers from ages 4 to 10. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as “Talking Animals and Tiny People” and “Witches and Wizards and Magic,” and entries contain information about interest levels and Lexile levels (independent reading levels which encourage reading development) and annotations with interesting insights. Isaacs’s book is an excellent resource for those seeking books that encourage, challenge, and support already excellent young readers.
Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives. David Denby. 2016. Henry Holt.
“How do you establish reading pleasure in busy, screen-loving teenagers—and in particular, pleasure in reading serious work?” Reporter David Denby set out to answer this when he spent the 2011–2012 school year observing an ethnically and economically diverse 10th-grade English class in Beacon School, a magnet public high school in New York City’s Manhattan borough. On the first day of school, teacher Sean Leon discussed what the class would be reading under the year’s “individual and society” theme—“You are going to read books that make you uncomfortable”—and what would be expected of them. Denby read all the literature that the students read throughout the year including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, and other challenging books. He comments on the books, Leon’s guidance of discussions, and the students’ involvement in the books read throughout the year. During the following school year, Denby visited both an inner-city 10th-grade English class in New Haven, CT, in which students had a common reading list as well as some choice between pairs of books, and a school in an affluent Westchester County, NY, community in which students made independent reading choices in addition to doing the core reading. From his experiences, Denby concluded that, under the guidance of passionate, committed teachers who are free to develop their own curricula, teenagers can become serious readers who take pleasure in reading.
Picture This: How Pictures Work (Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition). Molly Bang. 2016. Chronicle.
This guidebook explores an intriguing question: How does the structure of a picture—or any visual art form—affect our emotional response? To illustrate her points, Bang begins with examples related to artwork for “Little Red Riding Hood.” Using a think-aloud strategy, she analyzes how geometric shapes, colors, placement, and so on engage a reader’s emotional interpretations and connections to the narrative. Bang presents 12 principles (e.g., “smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm”) through simple art and explanations. Using her picture book When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry (2004), Bang describes how she created artwork to portray Sophie’s feelings of fury, sadness, expectancy, contentment, and contemplation. Through an illustration from her book, Dawn (1983), an adaptation of “The Crane Wife,” a Japanese folk tale, she encourages readers to analyze how this artwork affects their feelings, and then invites them to create, revise, and analyze their own scary picture using colored cut-paper art. Bang includes a list of further art exercises so readers can apply what they have learned. In this revision, she has fine-tuned her layouts and accompanying descriptions and analyses of examples for readers of all ages who want to produce art and/or understand it and how it affects the human spirit.
The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. Neil Gaiman. 2016. William Morrow/HarperCollins.
Neil Gaiman describes this book as “a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays,” and it does include his nonfiction writing on a wide range of topics, issues, and people who matter to him. It also gives readers a look at Gaiman’s life story, including his love of reading at a young age and the authors he credits with making him the writer he is today:
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton, and his appreciation for all the arts and the people who make them. Throughout the book, Gaiman communicates his belief in the importance of reading: “I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.” He speaks to readers in a conversational tone that is witty, wise, and thought provoking. Each entry is worth reading again and again and leaves readers with books to add to their I-want-to-read-or-read-again booklists.
Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism (3rd Edition). Michael Cart. 2016. American Library Association.
This revised, updated, and expanded third edition of Michael Cart’s survey of young adult literature, which began with the publication of From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature in 1996, is essential reading for anyone who wants to be current on the field. Maintaining the “That Was Then” and “This Is Now” format of earlier editions, Cart presents the history of young adult novels by decades, beginning with the 1960s and then shifting to a consideration of changes and trends in young adult literature in the 21st century, ushered in with the announcement of the first-ever winner of the Michael L. Printz Award at the American Library Association Midwinter conference on January 12, 2000. Cart states that the winning book, Walter Dean Myers’s Monster, and the four honor books “exemplified the newly literary, innovative, and diverse nature of young adult literature,” heralding the revival and renaissance of young adult literature. He covers a range of topics including genre fiction, teen demographics (Cart doesn’t shy away from presenting statistics), and the marketing of YA books (including the expanded audience for young adult books). He offers a balanced consideration of issues and their treatment by contemporary authors in addition to hot topics such as “the new nonfiction,” the boom in audiobooks, and the rise of new literacies in the age of change in technology. Cart leaves readers with thought-provoking comments on the promising future of young adult literature.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
In looking back at the bounty of nonfiction for children and young adults in 2016, we have considered the diversity of reading interests in addition to identifying outstanding trade books with curriculum connections.
Best in Snow. April Pulley Sayre. 2016. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.
The beauty of Sayre’s photographs of a snowstorm is matched by that of her spare, lyrical text. “A freeze. / A breeze. / A cloud. / It snows. / Snowflakes land on a squirrel’s nose.” Stunning double-page spreads take readers through the water cycle of winter, from freezing to mush and slush, until another snowflake lands on a squirrel’s nose in a new storm. An appended “Secrets of Snow” adds notes on the science of snow.
Giant Squid. Candace Fleming. Ill. Eric Rohmann. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.
Fleming and Rohmann introduce readers to the giant squid, a mysterious sea creature inhabiting the ocean depths. Double-page spreads of dramatic text and paintings reveal features of the squid’s body and its behavior. Particularly intriguing is a sequence of illustrations showing the squid’s evasion of a barracuda by ejecting a cloud of ink. A note on the search by scientists to answer questions about the giant squid will lead the curious reader to listed resources.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Debbie Levy. Ill. Elizabeth Baddeley. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Ruth was born in Brooklyn in 1933 into a strong Jewish family. Poignant illustrations depicting encounters with signs such as “NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED!” posted at hotels, restaurants, and in neighborhoods express the pain of prejudice young Ruth experienced. When older, she faced sexism at college and in her profession. At every turn, she resisted and persisted, eventually becoming a Supreme Court Justice, a position she has held since 1993 and one she uses to fight for equality for all people in the United States.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day. Andrea Davis Pinkney. Ill. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2016. Viking/Penguin.
Pinkney’s expressive narrative: “BROWN-SUGAR BOY in a blanket of white. / Bright as the day you came onto the page. / From the hand of a man who saw you for you” and the mixed-media illustrations, rendered in Keats’s signature collage style, tell the story of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, born in Brooklyn in 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Poland, and the creation of his 1963 Caldecott Medal–winning book.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Abrams.
In this origin legend, illustrated with Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec codices–inspired art, an Emperor agrees to the marriage of Princess Izta to Popoca if the warrior defeats his enemy Jaguar Claw. Amid the battle, Jaguar Claw sends Izta a report of Popoca’s death and a potion to ease her grief that puts her into a deep sleep. Victorious, Popoca returns and keeps his vow to stay by Izta’s side forever. Now, in Mexico there are two adjacent volcanoes: dormant Iztaccíhuatl and active Popocatéptl.
Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics. Steve Jenkins. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jenkins combines images of animals, created in his signature cut- and torn-paper collage technique, with charts and diagrams to visually present facts and figures about animals in an accessible format. High-interest topics range from the number of species in the different animal groups presented in a pie chart to deadly animals (based on the number of human deaths caused) in a bar graph to the world’s most endangered animals in a double-page chart.
Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. R. Gregory Christie. 2016. Little Bee.
Slaves in New Orleans toiled their way to Sunday afternoons when they were free to sing and dance in Congo Square. As their musical styles melded with those of other enslaved people, the foundation of popular jazz was created. This folk-art, rhyming, days-of-the week historical picture book (“Mondays, there were hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.”) includes a foreword with historical background on Congo Square.
Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology. Robert Byrd. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Following an introduction to the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, one of the oldest recorded Greek myths, Robert Byrd uses a series of lavishly illustrated double-page spreads to present key episodes of the quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece by Jason and the Argonauts, who were both helped and hindered by interactions with the gods as they fought epic battles with giants, harpies, and other monsters.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Javaka Steptoe. 2016. Little, Brown.
Steptoe’s lyrical text and expressive mixed-media illustrations create a stunning biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). As a child, Jean-Michel dreamed of becoming a famous artist; his artwork was everywhere in his family’s Brooklyn home. Moving to New York City in his teens, he painted on paper during the day and spray-painted walls downtown with poems and drawings at night. Gaining recognition, his artwork began to appear in art galleries. “People describe him as RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD.”
Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. Melissa Sweet. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In Some Writer! the always-creative Melissa Sweet uses a scrapbook-style compilation of letters, journals entries, family photos, manuscript excerpts, quotes, and her original mixed-media collage artwork and a warm narrative to present the story of the life and work of beloved children’s book author E.B. White. Particularly engaging are the chapters devoted to the writing of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, which exemplify White’s love of words and his process of crafting them into stories.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. Sarah Miller. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Miller takes readers beyond the “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” verse associated with the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, MA, covering the events leading up to Lizzie’s arrest, her imprisonment, her trial, and what came after her acquittal. The narrative is supplemented with sidebars of sensational newspaper articles that fueled rumors and divided opinions on whether Lizzie was guilty or innocent.
Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. Gail Jarrow. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
The third plague pandemic first appeared in San Francisco in 1894. Even after two researchers independently determined that the source, a bacterium, was transmitted by a flea, civic officials around the world continued to focus on quarantining people in communities where plague was found rather than eradicating the flea and its rat carrier. The final chapter of this well-researched book reports on present-day evidence of the plague in the United States.
The Great White Shark Scientist (Scientists in the Field).Sy Montgomery. Ill. Keith Ellenbogen. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Montgomery introduces readers to the work of biologist Greg Skomal and his research team during one summer as they video record and tag great white sharks in the waters off Cape Cod, MA. In the fall, she gets a close-up look at great white sharks in a dive in a submersible cage in the waters off Guadalupe Island with Mexican biologist Erick Higuera. Captioned photographs taken by Ellenbogen underwater and from research vessels and a small spotter plane add interest.
March: Book Three. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Ill. Nate Powell. 2016. Top Shelf.
The final book in the graphic memoir of Congressman John Lewis covers the turbulent period of the Civil Rights movement from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, to the signing by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This personal account provides a behind-the-scenes look at Lewis’s leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, meetings with other activists and government officials, and conflicts within various civil rights groups.
Vietnam: A History of the War. Russell Freedman. 2016. Holiday House.
Freedman provides readers with a well-researched history of the Vietnam War, including background on the small Asian country’s long history of fighting for independence and events leading up to the protracted 1954–1975 conflict. Drawing from newspaper reports and personal stories from multiple points of view, Freedman gives a balanced account of the combat involvement of the United States in Vietnam and the divisive protest movements at home.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History. Karen Blumenthal. 2016. Feiwel and Friends.
Blumenthal successfully takes on the challenge of writing about a contemporary political figure in this accessible portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her birth in 1947 and childhood in Park Ridge, IL, to her announcement in April 2015 that she was running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president. Blumenthal considers the people and experiences that have influenced Clinton’s life choices and the challenges she has faced as a woman in her professional and political life. The book includes photographs and interest-catching editorial cartoons.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb. Neal Bascomb. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Bascomb provides a well-researched account of the operations that ended Hitler’s plan to produce an atomic bomb. Heroic saboteurs destroyed the Norsk Hydro Plant in a remote mountainous region of Norway, which was Germany’s source of heavy water, an essential component for constructing an atomic bomb. Bascomb details the failures and successes of plans and the contributions of key individuals in the sabotage activities in addition to the atomic research of both Germany and the Allies.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. Caren Stelson. 2016. Carolrhoda/Lerner.
In 1945, 6-year-old Sachiko Yasui and her family were familiar with the hardships of living in a war-torn country. Then, on the morning of August 9, three days after an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb exploded just one half mile from the Yasui home. Based on extensive interviews with Sachiko Yasui, Stelson tells Sachiko’s story of survival, ending with how, on the 50th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, Sachiko began to share her hibakusha (explosion-affected people) experiences publicly to promote peace.
The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Shaun Tan. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
This beautifully designed book features 75 small sculptures created by Shaun Tan. A photograph of each sculpture is paired with a short excerpt from a Grimms’ fairy tale. Neil Gaiman’s foreword offers an appreciation of The Singing Tree, and Jack Zipes’s essay on the Grimm Brothers provides a historical context. In an afterword, Tan discusses his personal connection to the Grimms’ tales, influences on his artwork, and the materials and processes he used in creating his sculptures.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II. Albert Marrin. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
Marrin chronicles the shameful period in U.S. history in which fear, insecurity, and racism led to the uprooting of all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to relocation centers following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1947. Through personal stories, he covers life in these internment camps and the rebuilding of lives after the closing of the centers. In the final chapter, “Remembering the Past,” Marrin points out the importance of history as “a reminder of tragedies like the uprooting, and a warning against repeating them.”
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA. Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.
The season for looking back is upon us, and best-of-the-year booklists are popping up in the media. After reading so many books, having a few favorites is natural. Here are some notable fiction offerings of 2016.
Du Iz Tak? Carson Ellis. 2016. Candlewick.
As a tiny, green shoot emerges and grows and grows, a year of insect mini-dramas unfolds in clever, brightly colored gouache-and-ink illustrations, accompanied by a text made solely of invented dialogue. A damselfly exclaims, “Unk gladdenboot!” during the big spring reveal of a flower, but it is not long before the land returns to its fallow state, and it’s time to begin again—“Du iz tak?”—as new shoots appear. Children can read the pictures to tell the story and enjoy translating the text.
School’s First Day of School. Adam Rex. Ill. Christian Robinson. 2016. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.
With colorful paint-and-collage artwork, this picture book offers a fresh and fun perspective on first-day jitters as a new building, Frederick Douglass Elementary, nervously opens his doors to students. So far, his only human contact has been with the janitor. At day’s end, School is eager to report to the janitor about his big day and asks him to invite everyone to come back the next morning.
They All Saw a Cat. Brendan Wenzel. 2016. Chronicle.
“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws...” and “the child saw A CAT, and the dog saw A CAT,” and 10 other animals saw the cat. How each animal saw the tabby cat from its own perspective, colored by its knowledge and emotional response to the encounter, is brilliantly conveyed in imaginative double-page illustrations, rendered in a variety of materials, which complete the rhythmic patterned text of this imaginative picture book.
We Found a Hat. Jon Klassen. 2016. Candlewick.
In this final book in Klassen’s hat trilogy, two tortoises find a spiffy 10-gallon hat. The dilemma: How can the friends both wear the hat at the same time, especially when one of them secretly really wants it? Can they “dream up” a solution that works for both of them? The minimalistic artwork, in desert-like pink, grey, and brown tones, and simple narrative of this warm, gently humorous tale of friendship, will enchant children.
The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán.” Jo Ellen Bogart. Ill. Sydney Smith. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Panels of watercolor-and-ink paintings on wordless pages set the scene as a white cat prowls the halls of a monastery and makes its way into the cell of a Benedictine monk. The scholar compares his solitary life to that of the cat in this quiet tale of companionship in the Middle Ages. “We are each content, with all we need to entertain us. Ours is a happy tale.”
The Best Man. Richard Peck. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Archer Magill chronicles his elementary school years, beginning with an embarrassing wedding experience as a ring bearer at the age of 6. Through the highs and lows of subsequent years, Archer has three role models: Dad, Grandpa Magill, and Uncle Paul. Then he adds another, his fifth-grade student teacher, Mr. MacLeod. Archer concludes his “Tale of Two Weddings” as he serves as best man for Uncle Paul and Mr. MacLeod at their wedding in June after his year in sixth grade.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Kelly Barnhill. 2016. Algonquin.
A baby left in the forest in the Protectorate’s annual sacrifice is rescued by a good witch, Xan, who mistakenly lets the infant drink moonlight, thus she becomes enmagicked. Xan (with the help of a swamp monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon) must raise the child, Luna, to keep her magic confined until she’s old enough to control it. At the age of 13, Luna’s magic emerges and she uses it in a tangle of complex interactions involving her three guardians, an evil sorceress, and humans.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Adam Gidwitz. Ill. Hatem Aly. 2016. Dutton/Penguin.
In 1242, travelers gathered in a French tavern contribute stories about a dog and three children with supernatural powers. Gwenforte, the dog, was killed but came back to life. Jeanne, a peasant, sees the future. William, an oblate, has super strength. Jacob, a young Jewish boy, has the power to heal wounds. Aly’s manuscript illuminations are an integral part of this epic adventure as the children and their dog elude the inquisition.
Pax. Sara Pennypacker. Ill. Jon Klassen. 2016. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.
Twelve-year-old Peter is being sent to live with his grandfather. His father is going off to war and insists that Pax, a fox and Peter’s companion for five years, be released in the wild. Pax doesn’t understand his abandonment; Peter realizes the wrongness of the separation. Boy and fox have encounters that change them, and Peter comes to understand that a reunion with Pax may not be in Pax’s best interest, even if it is possible.
Raymie Nightingale. Kate DiCamillo. 2016. Candlewick.
When her father runs off with a dental hygienist, 10-year-old Raymie sets out to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest so he’ll return home to his famous daughter. Unfortunately, Raymie has no talent for baton twirling. However, two contestants, who also have special reasons for wanting to win, become her best friends as they work on pageant-required service projects. By the end of the contest, the futures of all the girls look brighter.
When the Sea Turned to Silver. Grace Lin. 2016. Little, Brown.
Grace Lin weaves ancient Chinese folktales into an epic adventure in which Pinmei and her mysterious friend Vishan set out on a perilous quest during a never-ending winter to find the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. She intends to offer the stone, which the Tiger Emperor covets, in exchange for the release of her beloved grandmother, Amah the Storyteller. Lin’s richly colored, intricately detailed illustration and spot art illuminate this companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009) and Starry River of the Sky (2012).
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. John Boyne. 2016. Henry Holt.
In 1936, orphaned 7-year-old Pierrot moves into the Austrian retreat of Adolf Hitler, where his aunt is the housekeeper. Becoming the Führer’s special pet, he transforms from a naïve child into an adolescent who, idolizing Hitler and completely committed to Nazi supremacy, betrays those who have treated him with love and kindness. As World War II ends, he has learned some important lessons, but they come too late to atone for his actions.
Ghost (Track #1). Jason Reynolds. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Seventh-grader Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw is always running, either away from trouble as when he and his mother had to run when his drunk father threatened them with a gun or toward trouble or “altercations” at school. When he is recruited as a sprinter by the Olympic medalist coach of an elite youth track team, Ghost has the opportunity to develop his natural talent as a runner—if he can control his anger and move beyond his troubled past.
The Lie Tree. Frances Hardinge. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
In this blending of fantasy and historical mystery, Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, a gentleman natural scientist, whisks his family away from Victorian London to the remote island of Vane, ostensibly to participate in an archaeological dig, but more likely to escape scandal involving an accusation of faking fossil finds. Fourteen-year-old Faith becomes aware of her father’s conflict with the men involved with the dig. When he is found dead, she is determined to prove that he did not commit suicide.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel. Matt Phelan. 2016. Candlewick.
Phelan’s nearly wordless retelling of Snow White recasts characters and sets the tale in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. After the death of her mother, Samantha (“Snow”) White’s father, the King of Wall Street, marries the Queen of the Follies. Learning Samantha is heir to her father’s fortune, the evil stepmother hires a thug to kill her. Like the classic huntsman, he spares Samantha’s life. A gang of seven street urchins protect her, and a police detective takes the place of the prince for a happy ending.
To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick.
In the spring of 1846, Mary Ann Graves (an actual survivor of the ill-fated crossing of the Sierra Nevada range by members of the Donner Party) and her family leave their home in Illinois for California. Lyrical poetry conveys the hardships the wagon train encounters as it moves across the vast wilderness and into the unexpected harshness of an early winter, which brings a shift from enthusiasm for a trailblazing adventure to despair among the starving and freezing pioneers.
The Memory of Light. Francisco X. Stork. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Working with a therapist and getting to know the three teens in her therapy group in a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky realizes she needs this supportive environment. Her father and stepmother, however, want her home and back to a “normal” routine. Stork tells the story of Vicky’s movement from the darkness of clinical depression to recovery to the point that she can return home with the strength to live if she has control over what that life will be.
Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. Philomel/Penguin.
World War II is nearing an end, and a group of refugees bands together, surviving unbelievable hardships, to reach an East Prussian port, where Germany is carrying out a sea evacuation of soldiers and civilians. Escape to freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff turns disastrous as the ship is sunk by a Soviet submarine. Told through alternating points of view of four characters (three refugees and a German sailor), this novel lets readers live the events leading up to—and following—this heartbreaking epic, based on an actual tragedy of war.
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe). Neal Shusterman. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In a future world that has conquered death, a supercomputer, the “Thunderhead,” runs daily societal systems while professional scythes glean (kill) to keep population size under control. Teens Citra and Rowan, unwillingly pitted against each other as apprentice scythes (with the winner destined to glean the loser) uncover a political conspiracy to destroy their perfect society with stakes higher than their own lives. Scythe leaves the reader eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
The Sun Is Also a Star. Nicola Yoon. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Two teens meet in New York City and fall in love during a 12-hour period. Natasha, an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, is being deported that evening. Daniel, a Korean American, is in the city for a Yale interview. His parents, Korean immigrants, insist that he pursue a medical career; Daniel wants to be a poet. At the end of the day, they separate. Their lives have been changed by their time together and encounters with others. Parting is a sad reality, but there is hope. The universe is full of possibilities for the future.
We Are the Ants. Shaun David Hutchinson. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
You may believe you matter in the universe. “But you don’t. Because we are the ants,” declares Henry Denton, a troubled teen, who is periodically abducted by aliens. Each time he’s aboard their spaceship, the aliens reveal a different way the world might end and show him a red button he could push to save it. Searching for why the world deserves a future, he asks individuals, “If you knew the world was going to end but you could prevent it, would you?” But does this matter, if Henry can’t find a way of first saving himself?
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
As Neil Gaiman states in the introduction to Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones (2016): “People need stories.... They entertain us and they change us, as they have changed and entertained us for thousands of years.”
I was fortunate to grow up learning nursery rhymes and listening to fairy tales, and once I could read on my own, I devoured the books in the folklore section of my local library. Today’s children need to hear and read these stories. Here is a selection of fairy tales, myths, and legends published in 2016, including new editions of classic collections in addition to fresh retellings of tales I recommend adding to personal, classroom, and library collections.
Hare and Tortoise. Alison Murray. 2016. Candlewick.
In her fresh and lively retelling of this Aesop fable, Murray introduces Hare (Leapus swifticus) and Tortoise (Slow and steadicus) with profiles, statements of their racing capabilities, and quotes from the two racers. After a “Ready…Steady…Cock-a-doodle-GO!” from a rooster to start the race, the brightly colored, digitally created illustrations show the two competitors on the race course, with Hare leaping through the tickliest grass and the meadow while Tortoise plods along the bottom of the page. Hare brags, “I’m the fastest on the farm. No one can beat me!” Tortoise says “I may be slow, but I’ll give it a go.” Overconfident Hare’s stopping to munch on carrots and nap leads to Tortoise’s victory. In a show of good sportsmanship, Tortoise suggests a rematch: a race to the lettuce patch.
Little Red. Bethan Woollvin. 2016. Peachtree.
Meeting a wolf in the woods on her way to Grandma’s house, “which might have scared some little girls,” does not scare Little Red. The wolf, of course, takes a shortcut—an unlucky turn of events for Grandma. When Little Red arrives, she peeps through the window and sees the badly disguised wolf in Grandma’s bed, “which might have scared some little girls,” but not Little Red. Just as the wolf leaps to devour her, Little Red surprises the unlucky wolf with an ax. Little Red returns home wearing a wolf fur outfit. The bold graphic illustrations, created with only black, gray, and touches of red on expansive white backgrounds, are a perfect match for the text. The result is a more humorous and darker retelling of the traditional tale, as all ends well for brave and clever Little Red, but not for Grandma.
The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Abrams.
In Tonatiuh’s retelling of this Mexican legend, illustrated with his signature Mixtec codices–inspired art, a princess named Izta falls in love with Popoca, a warrior, who vows to stay by her side no matter what. Her emperor father agrees to the marriage only if Popoca defeats his enemy Jaguar Claw, the ruler of a neighboring kingdom. When, after numerous battles, it becomes clear that Popoca will win, the evil Jaguar Claw bribes one of Popoca’s messengers to report to Izta that Popoca is dead and to offer her a potion to ease her grief. Izta drinks the poisonous potion and fall into a deep sleep from which she never wakes. Popoca returns the victor and keeps his vow to stay by Izta’s side forever. Now, where once there was a princess with her true love by her side, there are two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl (sleeping woman) and Popocatépetl (smoky mountain). Back matter includes an author’s note, a glossary, and a bibliography. An interesting volcano news connection: An unusually long and strong explosion of Popocatépetl occurred last month.
The Teeny-Tiny Woman (Folk Tale Classics). Paul Galdone. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The rhythmic repetition of “teeny-tiny” throughout the story of the teeny-tiny woman who finds a teeny-tiny bone in a teeny-tiny churchyard’s cemetery and takes it home intending to use in a teeny-tiny soup makes this a fun book to read aloud. When a teeny-tiny voice coming from the cupboard where she has put the bone increases in volume as it says, “Give me my bone,” however, the tale becomes a teeny-tiny bit scary. Over the years there have been other illustrated retellings of this traditional English tale, but Galdone’s delightfully folksy illustrations make his The Teeny-Tiny Woman, which was originally published in 1984, the classic retelling.
Beauty and the Beast. Mahlon F. Craft. Ill. Kinuko Y. Craft. 2016. Harper/HarperCollins.
The Crafts have created a beautiful picture book adaptation of the well-loved tale of Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, first published in France in 1756. The blocks of text of Mahlon F. Craft’s well-crafted retelling, which are on the left-hand pages, begin with decorative illuminated letters. Kinuko Y. Craft’s exquisite oil-over-watercolor illustrations are on the right-hand pages. In addition, there are three double-page wordless spreads presenting key scenes from the tale. The rich detailing of both text and illustrations of this adaptation of the traditional tale will appeal to middle-grade readers. It is a fine addition to classroom and library collections of fairy tales.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales. Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. 2016. University of Minnesota.
This renamed edition of the d’Aulaires’ classic East of the Sun and West of the Moon, originally published in 1938, remains the best collection for introducing children to Norwegian folktales. In the introduction, the d’Aulaires give a brief history of the folklore of Norway, including the role of Asbjörnsen and Moe in collecting the oral tales in the 19th century and the first translation of the tales into English, and tell of the difficulty they had in deciding which tales and illustrations to include in their collection. The 21 tales of princesses, trolls, talking animals, and heroes, which are best enjoyed through being read aloud, introduce children to motifs of Norwegian folklore. Many of the tales involve princes and knights attempting seemingly impossible feats to win a princess and half of a kingdom; the unlikely young hero Cinderlad is often the one who succeeds.
Jason and the Argonauts: The First Great Quest in Greek Mythology. Robert Byrd. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Following an introduction to the ancient Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts, one of the oldest recorded Greek myths, Robert Byrd uses a series of lavishly illustrated double-page spreads to present key episodes of mortal Jason’s quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason and the Argonauts (kings, princes, other noblemen, warriors, sages, and the sons of gods and goddesses) were helped and hindered by interactions with the gods as they fought epic battles with giants, harpies, man-eating Stymphalian birds, fire-breathing bulls, and other monsters. The double-page entries with detailed story-text and sidebars profiling key figures work well for chapter-a-day-type read-aloud and discussion sessions. The endpapers show a map of the route of the Argo. Back matter includes a chart of the Olympians, an author’s note, and a bibliography.
Divine Comedies: A Gift From Zeus and The Old Testament Made Easy. Jeanne Steig. Ill. William Steig. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Divine Comedies includes two Steig collaborations: A Gift From Zeus (originally published in 2011) and The Old Testament Made Easy (originally published in 1990). The droll and bawdy humor of Jeanne Steig’s classic stories from Greek mythology, told in prose with a scattering of light verse, and the Old Testament, told in verse, and the humorous and at times playfully naughty pen-and-watercolor cartoon artwork of William Steig make this collection of stories delightfully irreverent fare for sophisticated readers.
Tales From the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal. Donna Jo Napoli. Ill. Christina Balit. 2016. National Geographic.
In a strong storytelling voice, Donna Jo Napoli presents 49 of the 1,001 stories Scheherazade tells to her husband, who has vowed to take a new wife each day and to kill her the next morning to avoid ever being betrayed again as he was by his unfaithful first wife. For those not ready to take on independent reading of the book, listening to some of the tales will be a treat. Older children reading the book on their own will enjoy the frame story and how the tales link together, as well as Christina Balit’s exquisite artwork, which incorporates Middle Eastern motifs and cultural details in rich colors. An introduction and sidebars of related historical and cultural details add interest. Back matter includes a postscript in which Napoli discusses her selection of stories, a map of the Middle East, sources and bibliography, and an index.
The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Shaun Tan. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
This beautifully designed book features 75 small sculptures inspired by the fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Shaun Tan created the sculptures, which vary in size from about 2 to 16 inches in height, with papier-mâché, air-drying clay, paint, and miscellaneous other materials and natural objects. A photograph of each sculpture is paired with a short excerpt from a fairy tale, some familiar and some lesser known. Each of the sculptures and selected passages is thought-provoking; some, reflecting the dark side of tales, are unsettling. Neil Gaiman’s foreword offers an appreciation of The Singing Tree, and Jack Zipes’s essay “How the Brothers Grimm Made Their Way Into the World” provides a historical context for the book. In an afterword, Tan discusses his personal connection to the Grimms’ tales, the influence of Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines on his artwork, and the materials and processes he used in creating his sculptures. Back matter includes an annotated index with brief summaries of the Grimms’ fairy tales and a recommended list for further reading for those wishing to read the entire tales.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.