Prairie Lotus – Another Side to the Little House Story

Lynn: Linda Sue Park, like so many readers, was a childhood devotee of the Little House books. Also like many, she was bothered by some of what was said and what was left out in terms of race but she loved the stories deeply. As she says in her wonderful Author’s Note, Park wrote Prairie Lotus (Clarion, 2020) “as an attempt at a painful reconciliation.” I think she does a wonderful job of honoring what so many young readers loved about the LH books while making a very successful job of including another important side of the story.

Hanna is racially mixed, white father, Chinese/Korean mother, in a time when anyone other than white is despised and has to deal with ugly and systemic discrimination and restrictions both legal and cultural. After the death of Hanna’s mother, her father moves them to the western territories, seeking a place to set up a Dry Goods store. Hanna dreams of designing and creating women’s dresses and of graduating from school but she faces enormous obstacles to both dreams. Readers of the LH books will recognize many of the elements they loved: the details of daily life on the prairie, finding food and creating meals, building a home on an often hostile land. I loved Park’s descriptions of dressmaking, the fabrics, sewing, and details of the dress goods store.

Hanna’s voice is wonderfully crafted and her hopes and dreams, struggles and heartbreaks are so vivid and have a deeply authentic feel. Park tells an important story here but she never allows the compelling story to be slowed by her intent to show a more realistic story of pioneers, Native people, and the settling of the west. Kids will read it for the engaging story and come away with a new understanding of the time, the people, and the issues.

Cindy: Like author Linda Sue Park, Laura was an imaginary friend of mine as I read her books again and again in the late 60s and early 70s. I still have a fondness for the stories and for what they meant to me growing up. While I pretended to explain the wonders of microwave ovens and electric lights and the bounty of children’s books to Laura, I remember admiring how happy the Ingalls were with any small treat. An orange and a penny for Christmas, for instance. The orange appears in Hanna’s story as well, as does the theme of being satisfied with what you have.  I hated Wilder’s scenes with Nellie Oleson as she was so mean spirited; her spirit lives on in Park’s book in many of the prejudiced characters who are offended by Asian American Hanna living in their midst. From tactless questions about her ability to see well through her slanted eyes, to discriminatory acts to prevent her from attending school with the white children, Park tells another story of our country’s struggle to accept people who they feel “don’t belong.” That many of the hateful acts are drawn from Park’s personal experience makes the story all the more important for a new generation to read. Hanna’s spirit is indomitable and readers will be rooting for her success at school, with a friend, and with her dressmaking profession in this little insular town on the prairie.

Don’t Forget These! – Roundup of Late 2019 Picture Books Plus One

Lynn and Cindy: We do our best to look for and review as many books as possible during the “book” year but sometimes we don’t see those late publishing books until the new season begins. We don’t want you to miss some of these terrific books in the heady rush of 2020 publications. So here is a quick roundup of picture books that are just too good to miss!

The Hen Who Sailed Around the World by Guirec Soudee (Little, Brown, 2018)

A true story of a young Frenchman, Soudee, who spent 3 1/2 years sailing around the world and through the Northwest Passage with his traveling companion, Monique, a chicken. Soudee brought Monique along to provide eggs to eat but Monique turned out to be as adventurous and curious as Soudee himself. She loved sailing and the adventure, perching on Soudee’s shoulder, investigating the ice in the Arctic and “helping” Soudee sail. This absolutely charming chronicle is told in simple language for young readers and illustrated with wonderful photographs, some of them spectacular aerial drone shots and some downright adorable. This one is a can’t miss for story time reading either with a big group or snuggled up with your little chick in a cozy nest.

 

Bear is Awake by Hannah E. Harrison (Penguin/Dial, 2019)

Adorable entry into one of my favorite genres – quirky alphabet books! Bear wakes up mid-winter to begin an alphabetic adventure with a new friend, a young girl who is trying to figure out just what Bear should be doing in the winter! The story begins on the first page with Awake, next to Big Bear and Cozy Cabin and then on, page by page and letter by letter through the alphabet. There are wonderful and sometimes unusual choices for each letter including a terrific vocabulary challenge with O – Oblivious Officer and Outlandish Outfit and ends of course with ZZZZZ’s.

Harrison’s illustrations are such a delight! Sweet and very funny, they provide extra cues and lots of humor on every page. F and N completely cracked me up! I don’t know how I missed this one last year but make sure you don’t!

 

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler (Penguin/Random/Nancy Paulsen, 2019)

An evocative and deeply moving story of Depression-era poverty and family resilience. The exquisite illustrations made me tear up. This is an important story for today’s generations who think not having the latest phone is cruel deprivation.

 

The Underhills: A Tooth Fairy Story by Bob Graham (Candlewick, 2019)

As a childhood fan of The Borrowers, The Underhills, featuring child tooth fairies April and Esme, delighted me to no end. With their parents off on a “job” retrieving a lost molar, the girls and their new baby brother and dog are dropped off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the weekend. The tooth fairy grandparents live in a teapot in a vacant lot near the airport. The details, under Bob Graham’s delightful pen, are charming. An emergency lost tooth sends the girls off on a tricky mission at the airport and the scenes there are full of big spreads of small stories for children to examine. I had missed the first book about this tooth fairy family, April and Esme, Tooth Fairies (2010), but I will be hunting it down before you can say “bicuspid!”

 

16 Words: William Carlos Williams & “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers & Chuck Groenink (Schwartz & Wade, 2019)

So much depends upon a writer and illustrator to create a beautifully simple picture book. This one introduces physician and poet, William Carlos Williams, and sifting through facts from his life, imagines the inspiration for his most famous poem. Simply lovely.

 

Small in the City by Sydney Smith (Neal Porter, 2019)

The title says it all. An unseen narrator provides tips on navigating the bigness of the city as someone small. Sydney Smith’s breathtaking illustrations provide a wonderful perspective on the theme and while we as readers are as worried as the small person shown searching, we get reassurance at the end.

 

Being Edie is Hard Today by Ben Brashares (Little, Brown, 2019)

Remember Judith Viorst’s classic, Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Atheneum, 1972)? Alexander and Edie are kindred spirits. Edie’s story also has humor and hope that tomorrow will be easier but along the way, it has a darker edge to it. For many children being themselves or just being is very hard every day. Often adults don’t understand. This book will be going to my school counselor’s office where I think the pages will become quite worn. Elizabeth Bergeland’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are as unique as Edie and perfect for the story. A quiet gem that deserves wide readership.

Poisoned Water – A Chronicle and a Warning for All Readers

Lynn: The title of Candy Cooper and Marc Aronson’s upcoming book, Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint Michigan Fought for their Lives and Warned the Nation (Bloomsbury, May 2020) nails both the subject matter and the urgency of its subject. This is a horrifying story that will leave every reader not only sickened at what the people of Flint endured but also terrified that a similar situation could or has already happened in their community. Let me be clear here. The water crisis in Flint is not just a story of an already battered and diminished city taking one more horrible blow. The story of Flint’s poisoned water is a story that has already been repeated as citizens discover just what is flowing through the pipes in their cities, their homes, and their schools. I want to say at the start that this is a personal story for me. I have family in Flint and we have watched as this appalling situation unfolded. Our family there has dealt with serious health issues, their property values and equity have plummeted, they use filters on every faucet, and purchase expensive bottled water for all cooking and drinking. They have lost all trust in their government. I believe this book is important and it should be read by every person in the nation.

The authors have done a stellar job of laying out the series of events, explaining the interwoven issues, and documenting their reporting. Candy Cooper is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, veteran reporter, winner of the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and has written for several newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press and is the author of nonfiction books for classrooms. Those of us in the youth literature field know of Marc Aronson’s outstanding nonfiction books for young people. Marc is the winner of the very first Sibert Award and his excellent and meticulously researched books continue to win national awards.

On April 25, 2014, the mayor of Flint pushed a button that cut off the flow of water from long-time supplier Detroit and started the use of the water taken from the Flint River. It was a decision motivated by politics and budgets. Within days the issues and complaints began. Poisoned Water chronicles the horrifying series of events, bad decisions, cover-ups, and lies that destroyed the water system, health, future, and trust of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. Step by step, Cooper lays out the events, carefully documenting her work. The writing is clear and concise, easy to follow and understand. It is also a compelling account, as impossible to put down as a thriller and twice as horrifying because it actually happened to real people who are still suffering today.

Flint is the canary in the minefield that lies at the heart of urban America. Old water systems, lead pipes, aging infrastructures are everywhere. Cooper and Aronson lay out an extreme series of events concisely, include first-hand accounts from the people involved and pack the book with quotations and documentation. It is impossible not to finish reading the book and not be both outraged and infuriated. Do not miss this important and wonderfully crafted book. It is a critical warning to wake up and smell the coffee—and to seriously question what is in the water used in that coffee.

Cindy: This will be the book that I will be talking about all year and handing to everyone I know. We live in the state where this tragedy unfolded so when we caught up with Marc at our state’s school library conference Lynn suggested this topic as an important subject for a future teen nonfiction book. I agreed and am so glad that he and Candy Cooper made it happen. My husband works in wastewater treatment and as the news unfolded he updated me with his rants about what was going on and how wrong it was.  I listened and I had a cursory idea of what was going on, but reading Cooper and Aronson’s book was a whole new experience. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough even though I knew the trajectory of the crisis. The book is packed with quotable lines from those who were poisoned, those who poisoned them, and those who didn’t think it was important. ” Perhaps this quote from a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services nurse to a parent whose young child had lead poisoning from the Flint River water sums up the official response to the water crisis:

“It’s just a few IQ points. It’s not the end of the world.”

Cooper reports that five and half years later “one in five public school children in Flint was eligible for special education, an increase of 56 percent since before the crisis began, according to state figures.” It might not be the end of the world to that nurse, but even a little lead in the body can make a huge difference in a child’s or adult’s life. It’s not news that money controls everything and often to the detriment of the public good, but this tragedy that includes an unconscionable amount of harm to the citizens of Flint should cause everyone concern. From big impacts like the government suppressing information about the rising occurrence of Legionnaire’s Disease, to the daily problem of finding and hauling bottled water while paying exorbitant water bills for unpotable water, to going without hot water for years because you couldn’t afford to replace both your washer and your hot water heater ruined by corrosive water, the story is haunting and might be unbelievable in a dystopian teen novel. In fact, lead poisoning from paint was featured in the 2004 middle school novel, Bucking the Sarge, by Christopher Paul Curtis, a Flint native. No one knew then what ten years would bring to the city.

I have great admiration for the people of Flint who persisted. Who believed in what they knew to be wrong and who continued to fight against great odds and against a great imbalance of power and influence. Their fight continues. Their fight is one that other communities will have to fight if we are not proactive about our most important resource: water. The hero of the story is citizen action.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Peter Reynolds’ Be You! – Inspiring Even for Curmudgeons

Lynn: One of us here at Bookends is something of a curmudgeon when it comes to “inspirational” books. Ahem, I will leave you to guess which one of us it is but let me just say that one of us usually finds such books waay too sweet, gooey, and simplistic. Eye rolling is also quite often occurs during reading them. However, a notable exception to this prejudice happened when I, oops, when WE read Reynolds’ wonderful new picture book, Be You! (Scholastic, March 2020).

Yes, it is bright and cheery. Yes, it is filled with positive aphorisms. Yes, it is encouraging and uplifting. It even has hearts on the cover and teachable moments in the text!  But, happily, it is also fun, quirky, genuinely sweet and yes, quite inspiring!  Somehow it avoids being treacly and neither of us rolled our eyes once. The text manages to be encouraging but straightforward. The illustrations expand the text with real charm and humor and the attributes addressed are those kids will respond to.

I have a grandson who definitely marches to the beat of his own tambourine Reynolds’ book is made for kids like him. Yay!

Cindy: It’s true, Lynn’s idea of a self-help or inspirational book is a hard-core science fiction read. 😉 She leans to the escapist vs. introspective rule of thumb. But she knows a gem when she sees one and I shouldn’t pick on her further as everyone should be encouraged to “Be You!” The advice here to “Be Curious” or “Be Adventurous” or hardest perhaps, to “Be Patient” is delivered with a charming illustration and an additional suggestion of just how to do that. For instance, “Be Patient” has a young girl lounging on a big clock and the wise advice we all need at such times:

Being more you takes time.
Take a deep breath. Relax.
Let your future unfold at its own pace.
It will be worth the wait.

This book is one for all ages. I’m eager to give it to my middle school counselors. It’s also one that would make a great graduation gift book. Coincidentally, my library secretary saw our review copy of Say Something and thought we should encourage our middle school students to find positive things to say. We created a bulletin board based on his book. We hope to get some teachers to play along and have their students create their own speech bubbles to post around the school. We can all use a little inspiration during the bleak winter days, right?

Celebrating Pluto in Out-of-This World Picture Books

Lynn: Who doesn’t love an underdog or in this case an underplanet? Lots of us have been rooting for Pluto ever since it got reclassified as an ice dwarf a while ago. Adam Rex tops my planetary chart though with his hilarious AND informative new picture book on Pluto, Pluto Gets the Call (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019). Cindy and I were lucky enough to get to see illustrator Laurie Keller’s artwork for the book at a preview luncheon at ALA and we fell in love with the book way back then. The finished copy is now out and the wait has been worth it!

Pluto is all set to take us on a tour of the solar system when he gets a call. Yes, THE call from scientists on Earth with the distressing news that our googly-eyed tour guide has been demoted. Sadly but gamely, Pluto goes on with the tour, introducing us to the “real” planets and providing solid information on each one along the way. Skipping Earth because he “doesn’t want to talk about humans right now,” Pluto finally makes it to the Sun who cheers him up and reminds him that scientists are still arguing about him. Solar System facts are incorporated throughout the story in a way that kids will delight in and remember. A two-page spread as back matter also provides a wealth of additional information from the number of moons each planet has, the distance from the sun and what the planets were named after and more. Adam Rex’s bubble-speech dialog is snappy and packed with great one-liners kids will love. Laurie Keller’s terrific comic-style illustrations are colorful and funny and a perfect extension of Rex’s text.

This is a must-have addition to collections everywhere needing updated information on Pluto and the Solar System! This one is truly out-of-this-world.

 

Cindy: Pair Rex and Keller’s book with The Girl Who Named Pluto: The story of Venetia Burney (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) for a little history about Pluto. Author Alice B. McGinty tells the story of Venetia, a young British girl, who was fascinated when she learned in 1930 that a new planet had been discovered. The granddaughter of the Oxford head librarian and great-niece of a science master who named the two moons that orbit Mars, she came by her curiosity and love of science quite naturally. The book opens with a classroom walking/measuring demonstration of the distance between planets that many elementary teachers still use today. When Venetia learned about the new planet from her grandfather, she thought of how “frozen, dark, and lifeless” Pluto must be and she was reminded of the Roman myth underworld, ruled by Neptune’s brother, Pluto. Her grandfather likes the name and writes a letter to put it forward as a suggestion. Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations provide the right atmosphere and an author’s note provides more history about Venetia, including a great connection to a recent student-built instrument aboard the New Horizons robotic spacecraft that has several connections to the young girl who named the Pluto.

Broken Strings – Healing Hearts: A Middle Grade Holocaust Tale

Lynn: Veteran authors Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer have joined forces in their new middle-grade novel, Broken Strings (Penguin/Puffin Canada, 2019) and the result is a complex, layered and very moving story that shouldn’t be missed.

There is a lot going in this book! Set in 2002 in the aftermath of the attack on the towers, Shirli Berman, a 7th grader, is disappointed to learn that she has been cast in the role of Goldi instead of Hodel in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Shirli rallies though and goes looking for possible costumes and props in the attic of her grandfather’s house. There Shirli is shocked to discover an old violin and a poster showing her grandfather as a young boy with what looks like a family group all posed with instruments. Zayde had never allowed music in the house nor had he ever attended any of Shirli’s recitals or performances. When she takes her discoveries down to her grandfather, he is deeply shocked and then angry. Confused and hurt, Shirli goes back a few days later with her father and then for the first time, Zayde begins to talk about his family and his past.

Slowly over the course of the next few months, the family learns about their Polish family who were a traveling Klezmer band, moving from village to village. When the Nazis took over Poland, the family managed to stay unnoticed at first and then hid in the forest until they were eventually captured and sent to Auschwitz. Stubbornly carrying his violin during the capture and transport, Zayde was conscripted in a camp orchestra and forced to play as each new transport arrived and the Jewish prisoners were sorted with most sent to their deaths. Shirli’s Zayde was the only survivor from his family and after the war, he put music aside forever until Shirli’s discovery opened the door to the beginnings of healing.

The authors do an outstanding job of providing this history for young readers, connecting it to the history of the Sept. 11th attack and examining issues of prejudice, hatred, and oppression in a way that is never heavy-handed but thoughtful and relevant for today. Plot threads of the middle school musical production and a sweet first crush provide a bit of lightness and help keep the interest high. The role and power of music is also a theme that flows throughout the story and young musicians will find much here to think about.

This piece of Holocaust history was new to me too and with Fiddler on the Roof being a personal favorite, I too learned and was deeply moved by the story. An Author’s Note at the end provides additional historical information.

Celebrating the Book – Picture Books for Bibliophiles of All Ages

Bibliophiles come in all ages. Young or old, we share a common bond, a deep and abiding love of books. Even in this fast-paced digital age, we bibliophiles prosper, enriched and strengthened by this mutual ingrained passion. Don’t believe the current folk wisdom. Kids still love books. We see this in our book club and in our schools. Kids still want to hold books, absorb them, collect them, read them over and over, and protect them. Here are two heartfelt picture books that celebrate books and the readers that love them. The holidays are coming fast and these would make treasured gifts to the bibliophiles, both young AND old, on your list.

Lynn: This Book of Mine (Farrar, 2019) is by the renown writing-illustrating team Sarah Stewart and David Small. Stewart’s simple rhyming text celebrates the many ways that readers use books: to be a friend, to comfort after a scary dream, to spark imagination or sometimes just to smell that wonderful booky smell. Small’s charming and humorous illustrations fill the pages in warm shades of purple with a bright splash of color highlighting the book on each page. The cast of characters is diverse in age and race but clearly linked in their shared love of books. A New York Public Library lion is featured on the first and last page of the book in a lovely coda. Appropriate for our youngest bibliophiles as well as those of us who have been turning pages for many decades.

 

Cindy: You won’t be able to miss the neon-bright cover of How to Read a Book (HarperCollins, 2019) by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This dream team creates something new and fresh with Alexander’s encouraging how-to poem for experiencing a book with all of your senses paired with Sweet’s electrifying collage art. I’m an unabashed fan of Sweet’s artistry, and she stretches yet again with this one. The color palette wakes the reader to the joys of reading. This is no passive act, but one that wakes you if you dig into that clementine and let the juices drip down your chin! A number of creative paper delights await in the turning of these pages. Lynn and I were lucky enough to see some of the original art at a publisher event at the American Library Association and we were in awe. I so want to play in Melissa’s studio!

Don’t miss the author and illustrator notes that provide lovely stories about the creating of this special book.

Kwame’s advice is appropriate for any book, but certainly especially so for both of these visual poetic treats celebrating the wonder of books.

“Don’t rush though:
your eyes need
time to taste.
Your soul needs
room to bloom.”