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Your Storybook Suggestions
Category Archives: Age Range 9 to 12
“Emanuel’s Dream” is the amazing and inspiring true story of Emanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young boy from Ghana born with only one leg who managed to ride his bike all around his home country.
When Emanuel was born his father left home, and everyone thought that with only one leg, Emmanuel would be useless, or even worse: a curse! Everyone that is, except his mother, Comfort. Mama Comfort told Emanuel he could have anything, but he would have to get it for himself.
When Emanuel went to school, his mother carried him at first; when he became too heavy, he hopped. He saved his money and bought a soccer ball, and played with the other boys on crutches. Then, Emanuel learned to ride a bike with only one leg(!).
When Emmanuel was thirteen, Mama Comfort became very sick, so Emmanuel moved to the capital city Accra to earn some money to care for her. When Mama Comfort died, she told Emanuel, “Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.” Emanuel wanted to prove that being disabled did not mean being unable, so he resolved that he was going to bicycle around Ghana. When no-one in his town was willing to help, that did not deter him; Emanuel instead wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego California, and they sent him the things he needed. He received a blessing from the king of his region, hired a taxi to drive after him and film him, and Emanuel rode all the way around Ghana with only one leg wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Pozo” (meaning “The Disabled Person”) on his jersey.
We absolutely loved this story, as did I think everyone else who’s read it – based on the reviews we’ve seen. Emmanuel represents true grit and strength and his story is full of so many wonderful messages about never giving up on your dream or on the people you love.
“Island Boy” is another charming tale of historical fiction from one of our favorite author/illustrators, Barbara Cooney.
Matthais is born on Tibbets Island, Maine and his life is inextricably tied to the sea. After traveling the world as a young man, he returns to the island to marry his sweetheart and raise a family. The story crosses generations, sprinkles in some Maine history, and also includes a fascinating map in the back for children and parents alike to pore over. The ending is a little bit sad, but the book is as charming and beautiful as you would expect from Ms. Cooney. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
“The Canadian wilderness was white with snow. From Lake Superior northward the evergreen trees wore hoods and coats of white…There was no sound. Nothing moved.” A young, native American boy sits in a cabin near Lake Nipigon, carving a man in a canoe out of a piece of wood. After painting the canoe and adding some lead for ballast, he inscribes on the bottom: “PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER. I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA”. So begins the epic tale of “Paddle-to-the-Sea” by Holling C. Holling, a captivating Caldecott Honor storybook originally published in 1941. This fascinating tale provides a lesson in geography and history through the journey of a little man in a wooden canoe (“Paddle”) who manages to make his way, with a little bit of help, from the side of a snow-covered hill in Ontario, through each of the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River, and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to France.
In the course of his travels, Paddle spends some time dammed up in a pond with beavers, he narrowly escapes being run through a sawmill, and he sees the great iron freighters being loaded with ore in Duluth, Minnesota. He passes by fishing villages, witnesses a shipwreck in the midst of one of Lake Superior’s legendary storms, and travels the length of Lake Michigan on a freighter, all the way to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Making his way back up the coast of Michigan, he watches a forest fire in the Upper Peninsula, and wends his way through Lake Huron, where he is picked up in a motor boat and carried to the entrance of Lake Erie. He passes over Niagara Falls, through Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and out to the Grand Banks – where he is picked up by a French fishing boat for his journey across the ocean.
Along the way, through twenty-seven one-page chapters and several years, Paddle encounters people who pick him up and help him along his way – staying true to the request carved into the bottom of his hull. In nearly every chapter, there are maps in the margins showing Paddle’s progress, as well as beautiful, intricate, full-page illustrations facing each page of text. Mr. Holling also weaves all kinds of nuggets of information into the text – historical and geographical.
This is an amazing book. It may be a little bit long for a single evening’s read-aloud – it’s certainly a bigger bite to swallow that our typical picture book selection so far this year. It’s worth it, though. You may be able to split it over a couple evenings, although I predict that the story will be too compelling to put down. The idea that you can put a little canoe on a snow drift above a little creek and that he will eventually make it all the way to the ocean is sure to capture the wonderment of young and old alike.
As a bonus, I suggest watching this adaptation from 1966 by the National Film Board of Canada. I remember watching this film when I was in elementary school (not all the way back in 1966, by the way – how old do you think I am?). The story stuck with me in the back of my mind for years because the concept is so fascinating, but I had forgotten that it came from a picture book. When we discovered “Paddle-to-the-Sea” at the library, it clicked and I was thrilled to have rediscovered it! Needless to say, I had to get my own copy, which I am looking at right now.
So…it’s April and you’re looking for a book about seasons that also has poetry – you know, for National Poetry Month? Well, have we got the book for you! “Swing Around the Sun” is a charming collection of seasonal poems by Barbara Juster Esbensen about the colors, events, and feelings that we typically identify with each of the seasons. It’s a book that is a joy to read aloud, and with seasonally appropriate illustrations blanketing every page in color, it’s also an engaging work of art.
We were originally alerted to “Swing Around the Sun” by author Laura Purdie Salas – who mentioned that book as one of her inspirations during an online author event several weeks back at Read Aloud Revival. Ms. Esbensen has written five short and engaging poems for each season, with our favorite being “The Wind Woman”…in part because of the dramatic illustration that seems to show the face of the Wind Woman flying over the shadows of trees in the evergreen forest of winter.
Originally published in 1965, “Swing Around the Sun” was reissued in 2003 with an all-star cast of four illustrators – each one applying a unique style and creating a particular feeling around each of the seasons. As a side note, I did think it was interesting that each of the four illustrators currently lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. While I thought each artist’s style was appropriate for the chosen season, our favorite illustrations in their own right were Janice Lee Porter’s for Summer.
This was a very entertaining picture book, and one which I am glad to have added to our collection (poetry books are particularly nice to be able to pick up and read again and again). I will admit that I had to order a copy of the original 1965 edition as well, if only because I love the old-school look of the orange and yellow sun illustration on the front cover. Hey – having two copies can’t hurt…can it? We’re not entirely buried in books yet!
Sunday April 10 was National Sibling Day in the U.S., and we marked the occasion with a touching story about family ties and the abiding connection between sisters. “A Book for Black-Eyed Susan” by Judy Young and Doris Ettlinger is a poignant work of historical fiction that manages at once to be heartbreaking and inspirational. The pages are filled with gorgeous watercolor illustrations that capture candid snapshots of pioneer life and panoramic views of the Great Plains.
As Ms. Young tells us in her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, traveling on the Oregon Trail was not easy for the pioneers. Many families faced separation and one in every seventeen people died at some point along the journey west. Ten-year-old Cora must cope with tragedy on the very first page of the story when her mother dies giving birth to her little sister. Cora and her Pa rely on assistance from Cora’s Aunt Alma to care for the little baby, for whom Cora suggests the name Susan – inspired by her little sister’s black eyes and the Black-Eyed Susans which were her mother’s favorite flowers. One stormy day while Cora is inside the wagon taking cover from the rain, she pulls out her mother’s sewing box. Looking through the collection of scraps, Cora is reminded of experiences from her life in Missouri, of her extended family whom they had to leave behind, and of her mom. Realizing Susan will never know these precious memories, Cora decides that she will sew the scraps into a cloth book – a tangible bridge to the past for her little sister to better understand where she came from. When Cora’s Pa explains to her one day that he has asked Aunt Alma and Uncle Lee to raise Susan, Cora is heartbroken; Susan will be heading off to California, while Cora and her father will continue on to Oregon. Suddenly, Cora’s project takes on a new urgency, as she frantically works to complete her book before they reach the fork in the trail that she believes will separate them forever.
We really enjoyed this book. It is a definite favorite for our oldest who has checked it out from the library multiple times. The beautiful story manages to provide a little history lesson (something I particularly appreciate), and it is especially moving for us as parents of two girls. I can’t imagine being faced with the kind of decision that Cora’s father must make, believing that it is in his youngest daughter’s best interest for him to give her up, and separating his girls with no expectation that either will ever see the other again. We appreciated reading about how education was a priority for the pioneers upon reaching Oregon – it certainly was so for Cora. We also noticed an observation in Ms. Ettlinger’s bio on the back flap that really resonated with us, about the importance that people attach to home-made and well-used items and how they help us to stay connected to our history and our family. Most of all, however, I loved the way that all of Cora’s hard work on both her education and on creating Susan’s book pays off in the inspirational ending to the story.
If you have you been looking for some fact-based picture books that help to explain the world around you to your children, while also providing enough entertainment to keep their attention from beginning to end, you’ve come to the right place! We are thrilled whenever we can find books that fill this need, and we like to fit as many into our reading list as possible. For the month of April one of our “real world” themes is the water cycle – in honor of the April showers for which this month is known (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least). Saturday’s selection, “Water is Water” by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin, is a lovely introduction to the water cycle, with lush, playful illustrations and poetic prose that makes for an entertaining read-aloud experience.
The book follows a brother and sister as they and their friends experience the various forms that water can take throughout the year…steam, clouds, rain, ice, snow, etc. The changing seasons are beautifully illustrated with a backdrop that made me wish for a country house for our girls; nearly every two page spread presents a joyful scene of children playing outdoors and enjoying nature’s beauty to the fullest. The illustrations alone make me thankful to have this book in our library. The words are spare but they have a lyrical cadence with just the right amount of repetition to keep reader and listener alike engaged from beginning to end. I particularly liked the repeated use of the word “unless” to lead from one page to the next: “water is water, unless…it heats up…” in which case it is steam, or “fog is fog, unless…it falls down…” in which case it is rain, etc.
The last few pages provide additional detail to explain the various stages of the water cycle, along with some interesting numbers about water, like the fact that oceans hold 96.5% of all the water in the world, while 99% of the fresh water in the world is trapped as ice or snow or is hidden in underwater reservoirs. If I understood them correctly, that means that if you combine all the fresh-water lakes in the world, you would have collected no more than 0.04% of all the water on the Earth. I don’t know if that impresses anyone else, but it seems pretty amazing to me. If you are standing on the shore of one of the Great Lakes (for example) and all you can see is water, it must be mind-boggling to imagine that all that water is still only a tiny, tiny fraction of the world’s fresh water.
But I digress. “Water is Water” is another delightful picture book that happens to also be full of great information about how the real world works – and it conveys and captures a true sense of joy about being out in nature. It may also be of note for some parents that the brother and sister are biracial – I didn’t notice it until I read another review of the book, but for some readers that could add valuable color to an already charming book.
Did you know that April 8th was “Draw a Bird Day”? Neither did we until just recently – but it sounded like a neat unofficial holiday with a sweet story behind it, and we always enjoy fitting another special day into our Storybook Year reading list. So, in honor of DaB Day 2016 and in further celebration of National Poetry Month, we read “How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird” by Caldecott Medal winner Mordecai Gerstein. Full of playful and colorful illustrations, the book is a humorous and joyful interpretation of a poem by French surrealist Jacques Prévert.
How do you paint the portrait of a bird? Well, apparently it’s not so much about painting the bird itself. A truly great painting of a bird requires you to first draw a cage on your canvas that is attractive enough to entice a bird to land. Then you must erase the cage and replace it with a scene that is beautiful enough to inspire the bird to sing. Sometimes you must wait a very long time for the bird to arrive – perhaps years – and even if you eventually attract a bird, it may not ever sing. If it doesn’t sing, no worries – you will still know that you did your best. HOWEVER, if it does sing, it is a sign that you have a painting which is worthy of your signature. Either way, tomorrow you can always paint another one.
The poem itself, which is apparently very well known in French-speaking parts of the world, is wonderfully inventive and entertaining and there were several things about it that we enjoyed. We appreciated the instruction that you must immediately erase the cage once you have “captured” your bird. It is perhaps a metaphor for opening your mind, but on a more literal level, we loved the idea that the bird must be free; once you have his attention, it is up to the artist to create a scene beautiful enough to inspire the bird to stay and sing. I liked the reminder in the poem that sometimes it takes a very long time, a lot of patience, and perseverance to create a great work of art – it’s a universal lesson that is applicable not only to painting but to other artistic pursuits, like writing. The comment at the end – that tomorrow you can paint another one – is a charmingly optimistic post-script, reminding us that a new day brings another chance to make the bird sing (if you didn’t succeed today) or to create a picture with a completely different song (if you did succeed)…the possibilities are endless.
Mr. Gerstein’s artwork adds further humor and life to Mr. Prévert’s composition – particularly in the expressions and body language of the young artist in the poem. His looks of concentration or anticipation are amusing, but my favorite picture by far was the unbridled explosion of joy when the bird does sing. Overall, this is a beautiful production, small enough to be attractive for little hands with a bold picture of a bluebird on the cover that immediately caught my attention. This book will leave you with a big smile on your face; it’s a great choice for National Poetry Month, Draw a Bird Day, or any day, really.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu is definitely one of my favorite books. In this novel for middle grade readers, Ms. Ursu has spun an enchanting fantasy tale, which emphasizes the importance of friendship and of believing in yourself. I was hooked from the first paragraph, completely engrossed in the magical world she created.
The Real Boy of the title is Oscar, a ten-year old orphan who lives in the village of Barrow on the island of Aletheia. Aletheia is a magical island with two major cities, Barrow and the Shining City. Barrow is a working class town with working class residents, while the residents of the Shining City appear to be perfect in every way. At an early age, Oscar was taken in by the Barrows magician, Master Caleb, to be a shop hand. Oscar feels a strong connection to plants and to magic, and he enjoys his day job of grinding herbs and making tinctures for Master Caleb. But Oscar has a secret: late at night when he is, according to Master Caleb’s one very strict rule, supposed to be in bed, he stays up reading in the library. Over time he has gathered much information about herbs and magic – enough to manage the shop himself – although it is the magician’s apprentice Wolf who is in charge in Master Caleb’s absence. When Master Caleb has to leave to visit the continent, Oscar is left under the supervision of Wolf, who constantly mistreats Oscar. Then one day after a trip into the woods, Wolf returns dead and his companion, the village guardian’s apprentice, is never found.
Left on his own to run the shop, Oscar eventually begins to rely on the help of a new acquaintance, Callie, the healer’s apprentice, who helps him talk to the shop’s customers. While Oscar and Callie are becoming friends, Aletheia begins to fall apart in several ways. The seemingly flawless children from the nearby Shining City begin to show troubling flaws: one can’t speak, another can’t eat, and still another can’t remember anything. Meanwhile, the shops in the Barrow village are being ravaged by a monster with an insatiable hunger to consume anything to do with magic. It is up to Oscar and Callie to determine the cause of these catastrophes and to put a stop to them. Through the course of the novel, Oscar realizes that the City people are not what they seem, and that it is the “real boy”, the working class orphan from the blue collar town of Barrow, who is needed to save the day.
I first heard about Ms. Ursu and her books on the Read Aloud Revival website through their Live Author Event for one of her other novels, Breadcrumbs (a spectacular book, itself). I loved how open she was about her experiences, her creative process, and the amount of time and effort that goes into writing a book. I am really looking forward to my next Anne Ursu story!
As you will know if you follow this blog, we thoroughly enjoyed reading Julie Fogliano’s “and then it’s spring” on Day 80 of our storybook year. Imagine our delight when we discovered “When Green Becomes Tomatoes”, a book of verse about the seasons by Ms. Fogliano, which was released on March 1, 2016. The timing was just right for us to put it on the list for April…National Poetry Month…and boy, are we glad we did!
This charming book is a compilation of short, free verse poetry presented as a series of journal entries. The journal begins and ends on March 20, the vernal equinox, and there are poems scattered intermittently on days throughout the year in between (I hesitate to say that they are scattered randomly…that may be the case, but the author may have some intentional pattern that I haven’t noticed yet). The delightfully evocative prose captures how I imagine a child would view, and experience, the changing of the seasons – conveying a sense of wonder in the process. Ms. Fogliano finds ways, with short clauses and carefully chosen words, to present ideas in a creative and intriguing way which really appealed to us. I paused periodically while reading to ponder what she was saying, and thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have thought to describe it that way…but it absolutely makes sense.” We appreciated the way that each season is welcomed in it’s time – the writer is clearly ready for each transition to take place.
Ms. Morstad’s illustrations are a perfect complement to Ms. Fogliano’s poetry – presenting playful and colorful images of children interacting with the changing seasons. We love Ms. Morstad’s artwork, in “When Green Becomes Tomatoes” as well as in “How To” and “This Is Sadie” – two other books which we own and will be reading and reviewing here later this year.
There wasn’t a poem in this book that we didn’t enjoy. We had a lot of fun taking turns reading aloud and presenting different vocal interpretations of each poem, followed by extensive discussion in some cases. It was a truly interactive and fulfilling read-aloud experience!