Country Kids – City Kids

Cindy and Lynn: Moving is never easy, and it’s even harder when you are a child who loves nature and you learn you have to move to the city. We have two picture books that might help ease that move or make any big change a little easier.

Martin and the River (Groundwood, 2022) by Jon-Erik Lappano.

Martin and the River by Jon-Erik LappanoMartin has a river flowing through the fields behind his house and he spends his days catching frogs and “watching the great blue herons soar like dragons over the water.” When his mother takes a job in the city and Martin learns they will have to move, he is devastated. Promises of museum visits and subway rides do nothing to soothe him. Martin spends time at his river trying to scheme a plan but fails to come up with any good ideas. His parents wisely take him on some visits to the city before the big move. Martin’s imagination comes to his aid and he sees bits of nature and animals in the bustling city, but his heart melts when he sees the park…with a river.

Josée Bisaillon’s mixed media art contains beautiful scenes of the nature that Martin loves and is filled with small details of the plants, flowers, birds, and animals that Martin cherishes. It’s easy to see why he doesn’t want to leave.

Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (Owl Kids, 2021) by Susan Hughes.

Carmen and the House that Gaudi BuiltLike Martin in the previous book, Carmen is a country child who loves the woods around her home. She spends hours there exploring with her invisible Salamander friend, Dragon. Carmen is devastated when she learns her father has commissioned a house in the city and that soon the family would move there. When the architect, Señor Gaudi, visits, Carmen refuses to come inside to meet him but Señor Gaudi, standing on the lawn somehow sees her AND Dragon. As the new house progresses, Carmen sees the beauty of nature reflected in the designs. After two years, the house is finished and Carmen must leave her friend behind. But the finished house has an amazing wild beauty. Most astonishing of all is the beautiful stone salamander wrapped around the roof. Carmen has found a home in the city.

Susan Hughes has created a fictional story about a very real house. The Casa Batllo was redesigned and renovated for the Batllo family in 1904. Situated on one of Barcelona’s most fashionable streets, the house featured a wavy exterior and curved interior walls. Tall windows, skylights and interior courts provided light. A mosaic made of pieces of glass decorated the front of the house and all was topped with a spiny ridge along the roof line resembling a salamander. The house was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its impact is just as stunning today as it was in 1906.

I have been lucky enough to visit the Casa Batllo and it remains one of my favorite buildings in the world. Hughes includes an Author’s Note that provides the historical facts about the Casa, the Batllo family, and her thoughts on the creation of this picture book. A full-color photograph of the Casa is included. My hat is off to the photographer as the image somehow avoids all the tram power lines, streetlights, and signs that marred my own photos! My hat is also off to Susan Hughes, illustrator Marianne Ferrer, and this book for bringing the remarkable Señor Gaudi to a new generation.

These Virus Picture Books Are Infectious Reading

Cindy and Lynn: we know, we know. We’re all really tired of hearing about “the virus.” But, after two years of COVID quarantines, infections, shut-downs, mask mandates, and remote work if you still don’t know how to explain what a virus is, how it works, and how scientists study them and try to defeat the bad ones, this round-up of nonfiction picture books may help you focus the microscope. If you have other virus books for a young audience to recommend, leave us a comment. 

I’m a Virus! by Bridget Heos (Crown, 2022)I'm a Virus by Bridget Heos

From a sick girl’s sneeze to her friend’s nose, a common cold virus explains how it invades, multiplies, and attacks to spread from person to person. The science, which also covers the body’s immune response, is infused with humor and illustrations that help the information go down like a spoonful of sugar! Covid-19 is mentioned, as is Smallpox and Jenner’s first vaccine. A double-page spread introduces the many types of white blood cells and their jobs in defending you from illness. A glossary, suggested reading and bibliography round out this first entry in the Science Buddies Series.

Secret Life of Viruses by Mariona Tolosa SistereThe Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible Science Facts About Germs, Vaccines, and What You Can Do to Stay Healthy by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré Ellas Educan Collective (Sourcebooks, 2021)

Vibrant and humorous illustrations complement solid information written by a women’s science collective about a wide variety of viruses. Topics include how the body defends itself, viruses in history, and the benefits of some viruses. A True/False quiz at the back reinforces important content.

Dr. Fauci by Kate MessnerDr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner (Simon & Schuster, 2021)

This picture book biography of the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, begins in his childhood as a curious child of parents who owned a pharmacy and continues through his medical education and his work under seven U.S. presidents. Backmatter includes: How Do Vaccines Work?, Are Vaccines Safe?, and Dr. Fauci’s Five Tips for Future Scientists, a Time Line, Recommended Reading, and Fauci family photos.

Tu Youyou's Discovery by Songju Ma DaemickeTu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke (Albert Whitman, 2021)

Like Dr. Fauci, Tu Youyou was interested in medicine and research from a young age, partially due to her own struggle with tuberculosis as a teen. In 1969, an illness called Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, was killing people worldwide and became the focus of her research and experiments. This nonfiction biography picture book emphasizes the persistence needed in medical research as doctors search for answers and cures, and highlights the scientific process as well as gender discrimination. For her work, Youyou was honored with a Nobel Prize in 2015, the first Chinese woman to receive one.

What’s Going On With the Weather? A Tween Adventure Novel

Snow Struck by Nick CourageCindy: I live in Michigan, so mid-March is not too late to write about snowstorm books. In fact, it’s snowing as I write this post. Snow Struck (Delacorte, 2022) is the second storm novel by Nick Courage, an author who lives in New Orleans and knows something of weather disasters. This adventure features two Florida kids who are excited to visit their NYC cousin and see some snow at Christmas. Elizabeth and Matty have been living in a hotel since a hurricane took the roof off their house, so the trip is even more exciting. They arrive at the start of a freak storm that starts with temps in the 80s that quickly change as an arctic front sweeps through and they get more snow than they bargained for. As he did in his first book, Courage puts readers into the heads of various animals affected by the changing climate and the storm, with some beautiful nature writing, and provides additional information and tension through the perspective of climate scientists and weather experts. But nothing will ratchet up the suspense like a missing dog and the dangerous search for it on the empty streets of Manhattan. Watch out for that huge, falling Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza!

When my middle schoolers were getting excited about impending snowstorms and the possibility of snow days, I would always booktalk Michael Northrup’s survival story Trapped (Scholastic, 2011) about a group of high school students who get trapped at school in a big storm. Snow Struck will be perfect for a younger tween audience and might also spur them into some action to help our climate. Spring will come to Michigan, soon, right?

Code Breaking: The Woman All Spies Fear

Woman All Spies Fear by Ann Butler GreenfieldCindy: We realize that many of you are already familiar with this 2022 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist, but we have to talk about The Woman All Spies Fear (Random House Studios, 2021) by Amy Butler Greenfield anyway. Years ago, Lynn and I had a middle school girl who would only, and I mean ONLY, read books that featured math. In that pre-STEM publication world we struggled to keep her in books. Greenfield’s biography of code breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman would have pleased that student immensely. If you’ve ever struggled to solve a coded message, you’ll appreciate Friedman’s talent.

Elizebeth left Indiana in 1916, after earning a degree in English Literature and with a need to distance herself from a controlling father. Offered a strange job at a tycoon’s estate in Geneva, Illinois, the work at Riverbank would change the course of her life and help her discover her talent for code breaking. Colonel George Fabyan, the bizarre and also controlling millionaire, had many research teams working on his estate, but Elizebeth was put to work helping a team seeking to prove that Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. The work involved looking for ciphers within the text and also introduced Elizebeth to the man she would marry and work alongside the rest of her life as cryptanalists. Shakespeare’s authorship was never debunked, but the work sparked an interest provided a valuable training ground for understanding ciphers.

As Greenfield sheds light on Elizebeth’s growing skills in code-breaking, she also throws some challenges to her readers as she explains the various types of codes. I found myself pulling out paper and pencil to work some of them myself, and I’m sure teen readers will do the same. Elizebeth and her husband William made a great team as code-breaking involves multiple skills and Elizebeth had a talent for intuition that was invaluable in their work. Working in the first half of the 20th century, she faced bigger challenges than the codes she untangled, that of being a working female in a man’s world. Many of her accomplishments went unrecognized, the credit claimed by the FBI or other agencies as the Friedman’s escaped from Fabyan’s grips and became successful code-breakers working for the government and military the rest of their careers. Her intelligence, tenacity, and dedication to her work are inspiring.

Lynn: Cindy is so right about how inspiring this incredible woman is! Amy Greenfield does a masterful job of presenting the many facets of Elizebeth’s life and abilities, and she had to decipher this information often from the smallest of hints or comments from Elizebeth’s letters and diaries. She and William spent a lifetime dealing with the weight of world-shaking secrets, life or death discoveries, and the binding need for utter secrecy—even from each other. For much of their later working life, they each carried this enormous mental weight alone. William’s mind crumpled at many times but Elizebeth soldiered on, always supportive of him and her family. That their love for each other only strengthened despite this wall of secrecy amazes me.

The treatment of Elizebeth in the workplace, the lack of recognition for her brilliant work and the ultimate outrage of the NSA’s seizure of their personal records is something that will horrify any reader. The fact that Elizebeth persevered, achieved marvels with her work, and remained steadfast, humble, and courageous is truly inspiring. I hope young readers will be as inspired by this woman as they are outraged by the obstacles she overcame.

This is a masterfully crafted work and a well-deserved finalist in the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Greenfield carefully cited her sources, attributions, and conclusions—something of a work of crypto-analysis itself due to the intense secrecy surrounding Friedman’s work and life. It is a compelling story to read  as well. A perfect choice for any high school collection and ideal for STEM collections as well.

Help Mom Work From Home!

Help Mom Work From Home by Diana MurrayCindy: Almost two years into the pandemic and many families may have set up work and school areas at home and figured out technology needs and apps, but it really hasn’t gotten any easier and the novelty has definitely worn off. Help Mom Work from Home (Little, Brown, 2021) by Diana Murray is just the humorous look at the situation that might ease some stress.

With Dad and baby out of the house, Mom sits down to work with help from her toddler “boss.” After fixing mom’s hair and organizing her office supplies—crayons and glitter can’t be ignored—mom’s helper mimics her work and provides snacks and yoga breaks. It’s a looooong day but the evening together with the whole family, and some takeout pizza to let mom relax, is as good as a paycheck. The jaunty rhymes and fun illustrations by Cori Doerrfeld work well together.

Lynn: Oh the stories!!! From tales from my son and daughter-in-law, to young colleagues at work, I’m convinced that my own frustrations with my spouse pale in comparison! Although why he thinks it’s OK to read his morning newspaper articles with me when I’m deep in trying to write something intelligible at 8am is a mystery to me. But it’s nothing like dealing with a 4-year-old intent on “helping.”

This little one in our story clearly wants to help but as all parents working from home know well, those efforts often create nothing but chaos. Concentrate?? Yeah, right! It’s only when Mom finds tasks the toddler can manage like moving boxes, sticking on labels or assisting in some relaxing yoga stretches that she can get anything done. Nap time anyone???

This is a totally charming story and illustrations and it clearly comes from true experience. The underlying truth is that there are benefits from working from home but productivity may not be one of them. This timely picture will please both grown-ups working remotely and their helpers.

Digging for Words: Knowledge is Power

Digging for Words by Angela Burke KunkelCindy: Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2021) introduces children to yet another helper, working to make his corner of the world just a little bit better. A whole lot better, really. This is the story of two Josés. One a small boy who gets through the week anticipating the joy of Saturday when he visits the other José (based on the real José Alberto Gutierrez, who opens his house to people in his community to browse his books, his personal library, and borrow what they want to read for the next week.

Mr. Guiterrez’s library is not fancy and the books aren’t pristine leather-bound volumes. José Gutierrez drives a garbage truck route in Bogotá, Colombia. As he collects trash each night, he looks for discarded books and collects them to add to his library. The books he finds on the street were his education as he was too poor to attend school and didn’t finish his high school education until he was in his fifties. His “spark” book was Anna Karenina and he never looked back but did decide to share his treasures with others.

The young José and other community members don’t waste this opportunity and flock to Mr. Gutierrez’s home to exchange their books every week.  The power of books and reading and knowledge shines through the story, published in both English and Spanish editions.

Lynn: Librarians, teachers, and book lovers of all ages will be charmed by this story of an amazing man who takes his love of books and reading to a new level. José Alberto Gutierrez’s efforts to build and share a library are inspiring—especially when readers learn in the back matter that there are only nineteen libraries in the city of Bogata, Columbia, a city of ten million people! The Author’s Note provides more information about Gutierrez including the fact that he now also runs a foundation which provides books and reading material to schools and libraries across Columbia. And, portions of the proceeds from this picture book go to that foundation.

Rescatando Palabras by Angela Burke KunkelPaola Escobar’s digital illustrations are ideal for expanding and enhancing this wonderful story. I especially love the double-page spread of Gutierrez’s garbage truck journey across the city, showing him examining a discarded pile of books with his flashlight and the scenes of his library, books everywhere in towering stacks with happy readers making choices.

The back matter includes information on the featured books in the story and a selected list of online sources along with the Author’s Note in which Gutierrez reflects on on twenty years of creating his library, saying “My dream is to exchange my garage truck for a truck full of books and travel the country. I’m sure I can pull it off.” I think he can too!

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs

Solimar by Pam Munoz RyanCindy: When the package with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book arrived, it took my breath away. Inside the packing box was a huge monarch butterfly, its wings closed over an advance reader copy of Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs (Disney/Hyperion, Feb 2022), and a butterfly-shaped pack of seeds to grow wildflowers to help our pollinator friends. And, now that the 2021 publishing year awards are mostly behind us, I’m ready to spread my wings and fly into 2022 books. 

Solimar is a wonderful new Mexican hero to inspire budding environmentalists. When, just before her quinceañera she makes her annual trek to the oyamel forest to welcome the returning monarch butterflies, something magical happens. The sun, a sword-shaped crevice in a rock, and a swirl of butterflies changes her rebozo (a shawl) into a shimmering cloth that she later learns provides her with knowledge of the near future. It also hosts butterflies that need her care and protection.

Chafing at the constraints that keep her from a future she wants with a say in how her kingdom works while providing her brother the opportunity as Prince to one day rule the kingdom, a job he doesn’t want she isn’t excited about her upcoming party.  She definitely isn’t looking forward to trading in her childhood comfortable hiking boots for heeled, impractical dancing shoes. A takeover of the kingdom in her brother and father’s absence, in which her mother, abuela, and others are taken hostage while Solimar manages to escape, is just the beginning of the adventure ahead of her as she finds her courage and risks all to save her kingdom. 

The characters in this story that include a pet quetzel bird and a talking doll, in addition to an inventor river boy from a troubled neighboring village, are engaging. Young readers will hope from more of them and more adventures for Solimar, I know I do. They’ll also be glad to have a fantastical story that weighs in at under 200 pages.

I read “The State of YA in 2022” from WriterMag yesterday and #4 on the ten biggest trends in YA Lit is that “Climate-change novels may be the next big thing.” I hope so. The stakes are larger than those needed to kill a vampire, and we can’t start too young with raising awareness. Habitat preservation and saving the butterflies isn’t the only issue in this novel, but it is a driving force for Solimar. With a foot of snow on our ground in Michigan, I have a few months before I can plant those seeds that came with my book, but I’ll be ready to do so as soon as I can. FYI, the cover art changed dramatically from arc to finished book, and the butterfly box? A four-year-old and her twin two-year-old sisters are learning to be heroes as they flit around with it. They’ll be helping me plant the seeds soon.

Collage Creativity: Two Picture Books

Cindy: From the bright work of painted tissue paper from Eric Carle in the Very Hungry Caterpillar to the complex creations of Melissa Sweet, children (and adults) are mesmerized by books illustrated with collage. We have two picture books to highlight in this post by other award winning illustrators of this delightful medium. 

Dream Street by Tricia Elam WalkerFirst up is Dream Street (Random/Anne Schwartz, 2021) by Tricia Elam Walker and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. This inspiring story is based on memories of cousin creators, Tricia and Ekua, who did their own dreaming on the streets of Roxbury, Massachusetts. 

Each two page spread introduces someone from the Dream Street neighborhood.. There’s retired mail carrier, Mr. Sidney, reading the paper on his front stoop dressed “to the nines” happy to be free from his uniform who encourages everyone to not “…wait to have a great day. Create one!” Belle dreams of being a lepidopterist, a scientist who studies butterflies, as she catches and releases those she observes. Azaria’s dream is go win a jump rope trophy. Ms. Sarah has “stories between the lines of her face that she’ll share when you come close.” She listens to the dreams as she watches the children grow. Two little girls read and draw and dream of creating a book about the people they know on Dream Street.  The collage art is created from comic strips, newspapers, fabrics, stamps, maps, and many more curated bits. Art teachers might use this with students to create their own portrait, neighborhood scene, or personal dream.  Some dreams do come true, and Tricia and Ekua’s is manifested in a hopeful, colorful, moving tribute to the power of believing in yourself, and in having others believe in you and your dreams. 

Lynn: everybody in the red brick buildingOur second wonderful collage book is Everybody in the Red Brick Building (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2021). It is by Anne Wynter and illustrated by the gifted Oge Mora. This cumulative tale is perfect for a bedtime book, building up energetically at first and then slowing down in pace and tone to a delightfully sleepy ending.

“Everybody in the red brick building was asleep,” the story begins, “UNTIL Baby Izzie sat up in her crib and howled. WAAAAAAH!” The baby wakes up a boy and his parrot, a girl who decides to set off her toy rocket, which terrifies a cat who leaps onto a car, which sets off the alarm WEEEYOOOOWEEWYOOO….. You get the fun sequence of events, each one accompanied by terrific kid-pleasing sound effects. Before long, the whole building is awake. Then in a double page spread filled with sweet vignettes, sleepy parents intervene, the lights go out and the story slows, the sounds are quiet shhhhs, ting tings, and the pah-pum’s of a mother’s heart cradling Baby Izzy. Soon everybody in the building is asleep and little readers will be too.

Oge Mora’s gorgeous collages are wonderfully rich with glowing colors and cleverly chosen textures. This is a glorious book to read aloud while reveling in the masterful illustrations.

Gone to the Woods: Gary Paulsen

Gone to the Woods by Gary PaulsenCindy: In 1984 I graduated with my MLS and Gary Paulsen published Tracker, a story about a boy deer hunting with his grandfather. Two years later, he added Hatchet to his growing list and picked up the first of his Newbery Honor Awards. For nearly four decades I watched my middle school students forage the shelves for his stories, eager for his descriptions of survival in the wild, life on the farm, or dalliances with an even wilder side of life. Most of those stories contained elements of truth, bits of Paulsen’s life, woven into fiction or told as memoir. His latest book, Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (Farrar, 2021) provides an even more intimate look into his early years. 

Told in third person, describing himself as “the boy,” Pauslen tells his story in five parts: The Farm, The River, The Ship, Thirteen, and, The Soldier. Here we see and feel the neglect and abuse from his parents, the love and lessons from his grandparents, and his eye-opening experiences in the Philippines that informed his time later as as soldier. In “Thirteen” he shares the story of the librarian who saved him. I’d heard it told at some of his speaking engagements, but the fuller version here can’t help but make you tear up a little, especially if you are a librarian. That she not only gave him books, and a warm place to hang out, and acceptance, but a notebook and pencil with encouragement to write his own stories…I wish every kid had such support. For the kid reading this, who may not have the support they need, the book should provide some hope, and an example that hard, lost childhoods can be survived, Northwind by Gary Paulsenif not as easily as a thick swarm of mosquitos on a hot summer night. We all mourned in October when we heard the news of Gary Paulsen’s death, but his stories will always be with us. And, there’s one more on the way, Northwind (Farrar, Jan. 11, 2022), an ocean adventure with “hints of Nordic mythology.” Thank you, Mr. Paulsen, for all you shared with us.

Free Youth Lit Seminar from KPL

Background image of three solid color bars featuring orange, green, and blue with three people in small squares with the words reading 2021 Youth Literature Seminar.Cindy and Lynn: Have we got a treat for you! The Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library is hosting its annual Youth Literature Seminar this coming Friday, November 12, 2021 and you can attend virtually (for free) by signing up here. Keynote speakers include Betsy Bird, Meg Medina, and Gene Luen Yang. Bookends Blog is proud to continue our booktalks for this seminar in the afternoon breakout session. This year’s theme for our booktalks is a diversion from our usual “Best Books of the Year” session. Nothing was usual about the past year and a half. This year we are presenting: Overcoming Pandemic “Languishing”: Cindy & Lynn’s 2020/2021 Comfort Reads. You may recall our earlier post this year that defined “Languishing” in terms of reading. Well, we worked hard to overcome it and will be presenting the books that held our attention. While the rest of the world comforted themselves by baking banana bread, we sought comfort in books that we could escape into, or at least that were so compelling we could forget the outside world.

We hope you can join us. The seminar, with its theme of “Celebrating a New Beginning” is free and offers a wide variety of engaging speakers. To trauma and beyond! See you there!