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.

Cover Trends: Candy Conversation Hearts

Cindy: The controversy surrounding the Sweethearts Conversation Candy Hearts continues. Last year, Spangler couldn’t get them to market after buying bankrupt Necco. This year, they have a limited supply released, but you will probably find many lacking in “conversation.” Maybe next year, eh? Fortunately, there are plenty of children and teen book covers to fill in the blanks. These sweet books will make a nice display for Valentine’s Day and will leave patrons saying, “BE MINE.”

After the Kiss, by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon Pulse, 2010)

Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan (Knopf, 2003)

Candy Smash, by Jacqueline Davies (HMH, 2013)

Heartbreak Messenger, by Alexander Vance (Feiwel & Friends, 2013)

Love? Maybe, by Heather Hepler (Dial, 2012)

Thwonk, by Joan Bauer, (Speak, 2005)

Studio Tour with Children’s Author/Illustrator Greg Pizzoli

Cindy: While we were in Philadelphia for the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meetings last weekend we were fortunate to get to tour author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s new studio. After several stand-alone children’s books, he is launching a new beginner reader graphic novel series called Baloney and Friends (Disney, April 2020). Baloney, a pig, is joined by three friends: Peanut, a blue horse, bumblebee Bizz, and Krabbit, a crabby rabbit. The four friends are featured in four graphic stories and three mini-comics. There’s even a graphic table of contents to help young readers. While in Greg’s studio he showed us a framed piece of art that Ed Emberley drew for him. Greg said Emberley was an inspiration and he showed us his collection of Ed’s books near where he works. He practiced his drawing with those books as a child and decided to include similar step-by-step lessons in the back of this book so that his readers can draw Baloney and his friends and create their own stories. He has a beautiful space to work and his wife has her studio up a circular staircase so they can share the dog while they work. There’s a lot of talent under this one roof.

Lynn: What a treat to meet Greg and his wife, Kay Healy, at ALA! Greg’s new book about Baloney and friends is perfectly designed for newly independent readers. There are plenty of visual assists, color-coded speech bubbles, and simple decode-able vocabulary. The short stories included are wonderfully silly and guaranteed to gather giggles. It is hard to choose a favorite among them.  The Magic Trick took me right back to the many “Magic Shows” put on at my house by little boys. A sweet and thoughtful story, Feeling Blue, is a real standout and addresses emotions of sadness in a wonderfully accessible way for young readers. I am so happy this is a series and that there will be more stories to come.

Greg and Kay were incredibly kind to open their studios to a bunch of librarians and to give us a peek at their creative processes. Check out Kay’s drawn, screen printed, and stuffed fabric installations which are brilliantly created. I loved her work too and was trying to figure out if any of them would fit in my suitcase. Fortunately, I regained control! Thank you to the wonderful people at Disney/Hyperion and to Greg and Kay for a memorable event.

Cindy: While you wait for Baloney and Friends you’ll want to reread Book Hog, winner of a 2020 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor. Congratulations, Greg! You may have to get that other Geisel medal out of its box and on the wall now that you have a pair to hang!

Cindy & Lynn’s 2019 Book Awards

Cindy and Lynn: Here we are announcing our special brand of awards for 2019’s youth publications! We’re not talking about Newbery, Caldecott, or Printz Awards; we’ll leave those to the official committees. We’re off to Philadelphia this week for the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting and we can’t wait to learn who the big winners are, but in the meantime, here are the 2019 Bookends Awards. Envelopes, please! Previous editions of our awards and best of the year lists are archived here.

Cindy’s Awards:

The Kindred Spirit Award:

Sweety by Andrea Zuill (Schwartz & Wade, 2019)

This retainer-wearing naked mole-rat and her unique personality won my heart. This is my favorite picture book of 2019, a year of fabulous picture books.

There’s More Room for Award Stickers Award:

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Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Kokila, 2019)

A powerful and eye-opening story set mostly in the Philippines that I want everyone to read.

The Book That Reminded Me That Listening and Practical Experience Can Be a Better Teacher Than Book Learnin’:

Panthera Tigris by Sylvain Alzial, illustrated by Hélène Rajcak (Eerdmans, 2019)

A scholar has researched everything about Bengal Tigers, but when he doesn’t listen to his guide he gets some “informative” personal experience in the Indian jungle.

The Book That Proves That Not Every Music-Related Picture Book Has to Feature JAZZ:

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The Roots of Rap by Carol Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Little Bee, 2019)

Yes. YES. This book is informative, gorgeous, and pulsing with beat.

The Book That Reminded Me of My Own Limited Basketball Ability:

Nikki on the Line

Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts (Little, Brown, 2019)

Female sports novels are hard to come by and even harder to find with such good basketball action from the grueling practices to the drama on and off the court. I’m eager for more from this author.

I Didn’t Read the Jacket Blurb So I Didn’t See It Coming Award:

The Line Tender

The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Dutton, 2019)

I’m still verklempt. Count this as a SOB! on my “Sniff, Weep, Sob!” Meter but this heartbreaker is in my top 3 books of the year and it has my favorite cover of the year.

You Can Read to Me Forever Award:

The Secret Commonwealth (Book of Dust, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (Knopf/Listening Library, 2019)

I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my driving commute, but this was my favorite of the year. With Pullman’s stellar storytelling and Michael Sheen’s narration, I never wanted to stop driving.

Favorite Bird Book From the Year I Became Obsessed with Birding:

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Owling by Mark Wilson (Workman, 2019)

I read a lot of youth bird books this year and there were some great ones, like these, and this one, but I learned so much about owls from Mark Wilson giving this one a feather’s thickness lead over the others.

Lynn’s Awards:

The NOW I Finally Get It Historical Event Award:

Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandal by Andrea Balis and Elizabeth Levy (Roaring Brook, 2019)

Even though I lived through this, I was still somewhat confused about what happened when until I read this stellar nonfiction account of the Watergate Scandal. NOW I get it!

The Book That Most Made Me Feel Like a Broken-Hearted Teenager Once Again:

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki (First Second, 2019)

It has been a loooong time since I was a teen but Tamaki absolutely stabbed me in the heart with this book, bringing back the emotions as if they were brand new. Sob!

The Book That Made Me Hungry Every Time I Read it!:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperCollins, 2019)

Acevedo’s writing about food and cooking was so mouth-watering that I was hungry the whole time I read it. Well, her writing was actually evocative about everything in this delicious story.

The Book I Had to Fight My Teen Grandsons For:

The Toll by Neal Shusterman (S&S, 2019)

Let me remind readers that there are TWO of them and they BOTH read it before I got to. Is that grandmotherly sacrifice or what?

The Book That Helped Me Understand Cricket — At Least for a Minute or Two:

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2019)

I really understood cricket while I was reading this  – maybe, sort of, I think so anyway. Well, even if I’ve forgotten it all, I still loved this book!

The Book that Drove Me to Check My House for Bugs:

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (S&S/Atheneum, 2019)

This fascinating story based on Romanian history had me checking for bugs—the listening variety—under every surface! Yikes! Young readers need to know this history!

The Book that Nailed the Joy of a First Seaside Vacation:

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (Penguin/Viking, 2019)

There is so much that is stellar in this debut book but Tucker’s descriptions of a first experience at the sea during a Long Island vacation made me feel as if I was walking barefoot in the surf for the first time too.

The Book That Surprised Me the Most:

Let ‘Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda, 2019)

I’d been on a waitlist for this book for so long that I had forgotten all about it. When it came, it knocked my socks off! WOW, just WOW! Brilliant in every way! Text, illustrations, back matter, and research are all superb!

The Book that Cracks Me Up Just Thinking About It:

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris (Little, Brown, 2019)

‘Nuff said. This hilarious book just cracks me up every time!

 

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?

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.