Oh No, George
By Chris Haughton. Candlewick Press, 2012. 32 pages. $15.99/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 2 and up
Reviewed by Alison James
Illustrated in a flat retro style of red tones, George the long-nosed dog fails to resist temptation over and over. He promises to be good, but even he does not believe his promise. When Harry, his owner, leaves, George devours a cake, chases a cat, and digs up dirt of the flowers. Harry is distressed at the damage, but still takes George for a walk. Chagrined, George resists a cake, resists the cat, and even resists digging up the flowers. But when he is faced with a smelly trash can…who knows? Can George control himself? Children struggle with the vague notion of “being good” versus “being bad,” and this book gives concrete examples of what it means to behave even when you want very much not to. It also teaches that even when you’ve been horribly bad, you still deserve to be loved. The quote by Epictetus on the title page sums it up: “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.… No man is free who is not master of himself.” This book would be magnificent fun paired with the other long-nosed bad dog in Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George!
No Two Alike
By Keith Baker. Beach Lane Books, 2011. 40 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $12.99/ebook.
Recommended for ages 3 and up
Reviewed by Alison James
Two young Scarlet Tanagers cavort through the pages of this book, asking the question, “Are any two things alike?” The pacing is fast and fitting with bold, graphic illustrations. The first three spreads read, “No two snowflakes are alike, / almost almost.… / but not quite.” Nests, tracks, branches, leaves—the birds explore this outdoor world and discover that nothing is the same, not even the two of them. The birds tickle a sleeping squirrel with a bluebird’s feather, go skiing on pine needles, and peck brown leaves into the shape of snowflakes.The text stretches for a rhyme in places, but the playful simplicity of the illustrations tell more of the story than the words do. Keith Baker seems to have had a wonderful time with his white spray paint tool, filling each image with powdery falling snow over a pale blue sky. His website has a link for making paper snowflakes—no two alike!
Alison James is a member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting.
The Cloud Spinner
By Michael Catchpool. Illustrated by Alison Jay. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $8.99/e-book.
Recommended for age 5 and up
By I. C. Springman. Illustrated by Brian Lies. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. 40 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $9.00/e-book.
Recommended for ages 4 and up
Reviewed by Dee Cameron
How much is too much? When is enough enough? Quaker parents and teachers charged with conveying the concept of simplicity to children may look to two recent picture books for material.
The young cloud spinner weaves yarn from clouds as his mother taught him: gold in the morning, white during the day, and red in the evening. But one day, the beautiful scarf he made catches the eye of the king (whose avarice calls to mind such classic graspers as Midas, the emperor famous for his invisible “new clothes”), who wants him to make many more. While the boy’s mother has taught him that “enough is enough,” the king doesn’t get it, even when the clouds are depleted and his lands languish for lack of rain. Howerver, the king’s daughter, the young princess, understands what her father cannot, and she and the boy repair the damage before it is too late. Children will enjoy the role reversal as the boy and girl are portrayed as wiser and more responsible than the adult who wears the crown. The crackle varnish gives the large illustrations a feeling of antiquity, helping to place this new story in the tradition of older folktales that teach timeless lessons.
More is a book of few words and many intricate pictures. A magpie, assisted by a few mice, amasses “more,” lots,” and “plenty” of pilfered objects until his nest collapses. The animals solve the problem by lightening up. The attraction in these illustrations lies in identifying the elements in the potpourri of objects and watching the build-up, breakdown, and final whittling down to just enough.
Dee Cameron is a member of El Paso (Texas) Meeting.
By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. Erdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012. 32 pages. $16.00/Hardcover, $9.99/e-book.
Recommended for ages 4–8
Reviewed by Lisa Rand
Eileen Spinelli retells the story of the prophet Jonah from the perspective of the whale who swallowed him. At the beginning of the tale, Whale sings and swims happily with his family. When a storm comes up, Whale sees Jonah falling into the sea. “And God said to Whale, ‘Save the man Jonah.’” For three days Whale carries Jonah, wondering when God will tell him what to do next. Finally, Whale hears God’s voice telling him to bring the man to land.
Spinelli does a wonderful job of imagining the whale’s point of view, gifting the reader with a familiar story and a fresh perspective. The idea of God speaking to Whale is not present in any children’s Bible I have seen. However, the story of Jonah in the Qur’an shares this aspect of the narrative, and can be found in Qur’an storybooks. I love the opening it provides for talking with children about God as Creator of all, as well as discussing our relationships with other living beings.
The watercolor and colored pencil illustrations by Giuliano Ferri beautifully capture the play of light on the sea and the sun’s many colors across the sky. The artwork complements the reflective, prayerful tone of the text.
This volume would be a good addition to meetinghouse libraries, classrooms, and homes. Read it along with your favorite Bible translation and enjoy a lively conversation afterwards.
Lisa Rand is a member of Unami (Pa.) Meeting and writes a blog light to read by <lighttoreadby.wordpress.com>.
By Anushka Ravishankar. Illustrated by Kanyika Kini. Tundra Books, 2012. 32 pages. $17.95/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 4 and up
Reviewed by Michelle McAtee
The Rumor, by Anushka Ravishankar, is an Indian story of how rumors and gossip can take on lives of their own. The story begins when an ill-tempered villager coughs up a feather. The tale grows as the villagers spread the news using playful verse, reminding the readers of the children’s game, “Telephone.” Kanyika Kini’s fanciful illustrations in beautiful jewel tones bring this humorous tale to life. The Rumor also demonstrates the healing power of laughter as the ill-tempered villager reconnects with his neighbors. I read this book to a First Day School class of boys who giggled throughout the entire story. The whole class highly recommended The Rumor, particularly enjoying the exaggerations of the villagers.
Michelle McAtee is a member of Nashville (Tenn.) Meeting.
Waiting for Ice
By Sandra Markle. Illustrated by Alan Marks. Charlesbridge Publishing, 2012. 32 pages. $15.95/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 4–7
By Ted and Betsy Lewin. Lee and Low Books, 2012. 56 pages. $19.95/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 4–10
Reviewed by Tom and Sandy Farley
Talk about a pair of true wildlife stories from islands in the north! The protagonist in Waiting for Ice is a yearling polar bear who has gotten separated from her mother on Wrangel Island. She’s among other polar bears, but she might as well be alone. Without an adult to look out for her, she nearly starves. Sandra Markle explains how late formation of Arctic Sea pack ice has made life difficult for the bears. The cub we follow struggles but manages to survive, and the stark realism of the book leaves much for the reader to appreciate. The illustrations are excellent, too, which is a difficult task when the subject is the same color as his surroundings!
Puffling Patrol is an account of the authors’ visit to Heimaey Island off the south coast of Iceland. It has become a community project there to rescue young puffins, called pufflings, who are too young to join the flock when it is time to migrate. Children are included in the search for pufflings and in caring for them until their flight feathers develop. The Lewins’ watercolors and sketches capture the character of the Icelanders, their village, and the pufflings with clarity and beauty.
Each of the above books includes a section at the end with additional facts and details of the zoology and climate science relevant to the stories. Both make good lap books with preschool to beginning readers, though Puffling Patrol might be more enjoyable to younger children because of the variety of scenes in the illustrations.
We will gladly share both of these books with our five-year-old grandson.
Same Sun Here
By Silas House and Neela Vaswani. Candlewick Press, 2012. 288 pages. $16.99/hardcover, $8.79/e-book.
Recommended for ages 10 and up
Reviewed by Tom and Sandy Farley
This story is told entirely through correspondence between two middle-schoolers: Meena, an immigrant girl from India living in New York’s Chinatown, and River, a boy from rural Kentucky. Meena is an artist and River plays basketball. How different could two young people be?
The two decide early on that they “can tell each other secrets and be [their] own true selves.” This leads them from the superficial summer school pen pal assignment to deep sharing as they discover startling similarities. For example, out of economic necessity, both of their fathers are temporarily working and living away from home.
Each family has issues to deal with. Meena lives in a rent-controlled apartment whose landlord refuses to make repairs. River lives in a community devastated by the widespread toxic effects of mountaintop removal mining. His grandmother leads a protest where River confronts the governor in a powerful and yet non-violent way.
We move from lengthy, handwritten or typed letters to shorter emails as the children try to chronicle the exciting and climactic events in their lives. Authors House and Vaswani each write one character, so the voices are distinct and clear. The novel ends just before Meena and River are to meet in New York, leaving the reader to wonder how the real-life visit might go.
Epistolary novels have gone somewhat out of style in modern times, since anyone nowadays can pick up the phone and call or text within seconds. Yet House and Vaswani make their epistolary structure work well as readers are drawn into the lives of two young people who strongly value integrity, their family commitments, and the natural environment.
Sandy and Tom Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting. They are the authors of Earthcare for Children.
The Can Man
By Laura Williams. Illustrated by Craig Orback. Lee and Low Books, 2010. 40 pages. $18.95/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 6 and up
Reviewed by Lucinda Hathaway
I started to read this book with the preconceived notion that picture books were for little kids, like my five year old granddaughter to whom I read all the time. But The Can Man might not be appropriate for young children who do not live in a city and aren’t familiar with the societal problem of homelessness. I had visions of my granddaughter crying for three days because, as she says, “Someone doesn’t have a home, Granny?”
Still, Laura Williams writes a provocative tale in which the author completely grasps the psyche and personality of her main character, a boy named Tim. The dialogue and emotion are believable, and the story hinges on a moral dilemma that keeps you reading until the end of the book. While I won’t divulge the ending, I think the book could provoke interesting conversation with grade school children on the topic of homeless people in their neighborhood or community.
Even though I had a lump in my throat when I finished the book, it was a good read, nicely illustrated and a definite plus for a meeting library or at home, where we all must face and explain some of the sadness in our world. Thank you, Laura Williams, for being brave enough to write about this topic and not sweep it under the rug.
They Stood Alone! 25 Men and Women Who Made A Difference
By Sandra McLeod Humphrey, Prometheus Books, 2011. 176 pages. $14.00/paperback.
Recommended for ages 9 and up
Reviewed by Lucinda Hathaway
Author Sandra McLeod Humphrey states from the beginning: “The intent of this book is to inspire you to have your own dream and to follow your heart until you attain your dream.” She then goes on to write a mini-biography of twenty-five persons who did just that. Each of the biographies describes a person who had a vision that required changing the status quo and the courage to move ahead with their ideas. Among the twenty-five people included are Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry David Thoreau, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Marie Curie, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Margaret Mead, Marian Anderson, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Neil Armstrong.
The contributions of all of these individuals changed or altered the course of civilization. The author does not always gloss over some of the unpleasant results of these achievements. For example, she draws attention to the treatment of native peoples by Christopher Columbus and shows that many people died of malaria as a result of the banning of DDT following the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. She shows that progress can have some detrimental fall-out, no matter how wonderful the discovery.
Humphrey also mentions the influence of Quakerism on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Mead, Henry David Thoreau and Harriet Tubman. This book would be a welcome addition to a meeting library.
The book ends with the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Its final sentence is “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the road less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” This poem will be familiar to many readers and accepted as a good summation. For those unfamiliar with the poem, it is still a wonderful conclusion to the stories of 25 people who did stand alone to accomplish their mission. I enjoyed reading the book and will pass it along to my nine year old grandson, Jose’. May he read, understand, and hear his own drummer.
Lucinda Hathaway is a member of Sarasota (Fla.) Meeting and the author of Takashi’s Voyage and ‘Round the World.
Who was William Penn?: And Other Questions about the Founding of Pennsylvania
By Marty Rhodes Figley. Lerner Publishing Group, 2012. 48 pages. $9.95/paperback.
Recommended for readers ages 9 and up
Reviewed by Emilie Gay
I enjoyed reading this nonfiction book, which is part of the Six Questions of American History series. The real life experience of William Penn and Quakers settling in the new world is better than any fiction, full of kings deposed, knights imprisoned, lands gained and lost, loyalty rewarded and betrayal punished.
The book opens with Penn’s introduction to Quakerism and then returns to his earlier religious leadings. The story offers insights into Penn’s spiritual experience that illuminate the Quaker faith. For instance, Penn’s first religious experience as a schoolboy would be familiar to most Quakers as “he was alone when an inner peace came over him.”
Penn spent his life protecting Quakers and supporting their values. He was given sole proprietorship over 46,000 square miles in North America, which allowed him to begin his Holy Experiment. This story takes us from the cities of Europe to the wilderness of the Americas. We meet Royalists, Parliamentarians, Quakers, Protestants, colonists and native peoples as we learn about Penn’s extraordinary life. There are sidebar definitions for some terms as well as a glossary. Throughout the book, there are replicas of original prints and portraits as well as maps and primary source materials. There is enough information to be used as a study guide of William Penn or colonial America. It makes a good addition to any library.
Emilie Gay is a member of Brooklyn (NY) Meeting.
By R.J. Palacio. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012. 320 pages. $15.99/hardcover, $10.99/ebook.
Recommended for readers ages 8–12
Reviewed by Jim Foritano
I have always thought it unnecessary for children to have such complicated lives, since they will have so much time for that when they are older and wearier. But reading Wonder nudged this admittedly retrograde attitude towards compassion, even grudging acceptance. Auggie, the protagonist, wants to be the kind of uncomplicated, fun loving kid that adults of a certain stripe want to believe in, and even kids themselves yearn to be.
Let’s listen to Auggie’s fresh, direct, incontrovertibly ten-year-old voice as it addresses the reader in the very first paragraph of Wonder: “I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an Xbox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.”
Auggie is, like most of us, a wannabe insider, or at least from time to time accepted on his own terms. But who among us, or our younger selves, can possibly see those terms of individuality through, as he puts it, a “mushed up” face? Auggie does not give us, right away, the scientific term for a condition that has not only affected his face, but also his body. For Auggie, corrective surgery will be as routine as visits to the dentist are for most of us.
The lure of this universal drama is the seemingly numberless characters and situations we encounter through the book that tweak our conception of Auggie and his world into recognizable shapes. Perhaps we are first permitted to see Auggie’s situation as parallel to our own when his mom looks into his tiny “mushed-up” face for the first time and sees only “how pretty [his] eyes were.” Perhaps this grace comes bit by bit from the many actors in Auggie’s drama who meet, with varying degrees of response, those tough, vulnerable eyes ignited by the wondrous poetry of Wonder.
Jim Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.
Walking on the Earth & Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School
Ed. by Timothy P. McLaughlin, Illustrated by S. D. Nelson. Abrams Books for Young Readers., 2012. 80 pages. $19.95/hardcover.
Recommended for ages 8 and up
Reviewed by David Austin
One of the most positive aspects of the current boom in children’s literature publishing is the amount of work that is written for young readers by young people themselves. This book is a unique example in that it presents the voices of an overlooked and neglected community: young Native Americans. This beautiful and lovingly produced collection, in my opinion, belongs in every young poetry reader’s collection and in every school library.
Editor Timothy McLaughlin has had extensive experience as an educator working with Native Americans, including his time spent at the Red Cloud School. For this anthology, he has collected dozens of poems, most of them very short, arranged thematically. The themes include the Natural World, Misery, Native Thoughts, Silence, Spirit, and Language. Each chapter is introduced with a beautiful illustration by S.D. Nelson and a brief introduction by McLaughlin.
As you might expect in a book of poetry by young authors, the writing is uneven, but all of it shows an evidence of a passion for language and a desire to be heard. In fact, it’s less a desire than a demand. As a teacher, I would love to see what McLaughlin does with his students to get them to not only be willing to share some of their heart-wrenching thoughts and stories, but also how he gets them to use such powerful phrasing as “the cars go by like mosquitoes looking for blood,” or “the writer is a person who takes time to group words to make changes.” These poems may be the published results of young minds at work, but there is a lot of living and experience being passed on to us here, and much of it is not especially lovely, even if the language is.
I can see this text being used by writing teachers in any school, as these poems would make tremendous springboards for student writing. Many of these poems, especially the ones dealing with silence and spirituality, would make excellent discussion starters for First Day School classes, and not just for young Friends. Anyone who reads and discusses the poetry on these pages will not only get a glimpse into the minds and hearts of the young poets, but also an insight into the values and wisdom of the culture which gave them birth. Timothy McLaughlin has produced what is obviously a labor of love by presenting this book to us, and we, along with his students, should be grateful for that effort.
Dave Austin is a member of Haddonfield (NJ) Meeting. He lives, teaches seventh grade social studies, and reads (and sometimes writes) poetry in Marlton, NJ.
We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
By Cynthia Levinson. Peachtree Publishers. 2012, 176 pages. $19.95/Hardcover.
Recommended for ages 10 and up
Reviewed by Vickie LeCroy
Tales of courage, determination, bravery, brutality, racism and hope are found in this book about four participants in Birmingham’s Civil Rights Movement. Readers too young to remember the sixties might be surprised to learn that even as late as the 1960s, cities such as Birmingham, Alabama, had very strict segregation laws which were generally enforced. Levinson explains that these laws included restrictions on dining, shopping, voting, and transportation, and required separate drinking fountains, restrooms and schools.
One wonders why children and teens were willing to march and even go to jail. Perhaps it was due to the inspiration from charismatic leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, and Hosea Williams. These men were frequent speakers at local black churches in Birmingham. Peaceful Ponies, a group that trained young students in methods of nonviolent resistance, was also active in Birmingham.
Levinson explains how Martin Luther King, Jr. proposed a strategy consisting of peaceful marches that would fill up Birmingham’s jails, that he spoke to large crowds at the local churches and planned marches. When it came time for early marches, however, the formerly enthusiastic crowds did not show up, as adults were afraid they would lose their jobs. So the strategy shifted to student marches. Audrey Faye Hendricks, nine years of age, was the youngest of the four young people featured in We’ve Got a Job. Levinson illustrates the remarkable courage of both the children and their parents to protest injustice while putting their health and family at risk.
The numerous black and white photographs that go along with the text provide interesting perspectives that might suggest the book is targeted for young readers; however, the detailed descriptions—including some violent events—make the book better suited for middle and high school students. The book provides an informative and interesting insiders’ view of a pivotal era in the struggle for civil rights. It would be a welcome addition to a First Day School library where secondary students could easily be inspired by the lives of these four courageous students.
Vickie LeCroy is a member of Cincinnati (Ohio) Meeting.