I'm Emily Reynolds.
I'm Emily Reynolds.
1) The Big, Red Lollipop,
Written by by Rukhsana Khan,
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Like a kid who squirrels away candy in a sock drawer for months at a time, I've been waiting to review this book all year...
Big Red Lollipop is one of the THE most enjoyable picture books a person can read with children. Why? Besides the fact that the illustrations by Caldecott medalist, Sophie Blackall, are sweeter than an all-day sucker, this story touches on topics that resonate with everyone: injustices that everyone may have felt at one time or another being an outsider because of one's beliefs or culture, sacrifices made to keep the peace at home, and what it means to let go of one's own desires for the greater good of others.
Goodreads can give you the best run-down on this unusual story:
Rubina has been invited to her first birthday party, and her mother, Ami, insists that she bring her little sister along. Rubina is mortified, but she can't convince Ami that you just don't bring your younger sister to your friend's party. So both girls go, and not only does Sana demand to win every game, but after the party she steals Rubina's prized party favor, a red lollipop. What's a fed-up big sister to do? Rukhsana Khan's clever story and Sophie Blackall's irresistible illustrations make for a powerful combination in this fresh and surprising picture book.
And the child's voice that reads-aloud this book on youtube is downright delightful:
The truly amazing highlight of this book is the altruistic turn it takes in the end (*spoiler alert!*) when the older sister, Rubina, forgives her mother's blind insistence, and her whiny younger sister's selfishness.
Rubina surprises us with such a generous portion of empathy for her younger sister, that it reminds the reader that kindness, in return for meanness, is simply the better way. Readers feel a heightened level of hope for humanity--a sense that despite injustices paid to a person, one can choose to let go of hurt, and turn the other cheek.
By stepping up out of the cycle of "me-first," by giving back charity instead of revenge--the protagonist in Big Red Lollipop ends the cycle of anger, and lifts everyone up. I can't praise this book enough.
2) I Go with My Family to Grandma's,
Written by Riki Levinson,
Illustrated by Diane Goode
Just one more book introduced to me from the magical home library of my dear friend Christa. (As a side note, you can snoop on her beautiful block prints/hand-crafted cards here:
I framed the cards she gave me as they are original artwork--for just four dollars per hand-printed piece, people! And no, she has no idea I'm advertising her masterpieces...sorry, Christa, my dear--your artwork is too beautiful not to share!)
Now back to the book! The unique perspective of this gem directs a child to stop and ponder on family connections. By putting the reader in the position of watching several families travel their own respective routes to meet up with their cousins at their grandparents' home in New York City, children remember that family bonds have deep roots of love and heritage, and can carry on even though they branch out to start new generations and traditions of their own as they grow. Love binds and spreads.
As a side note, I must mention the funny culmination of the gathering at the end of this story! (It's every father's worst nightmare--a huge family photo session replete with wailing babies, fleeing children, and grumpy uncles being forced to stand still waiting while a photographer captures the moment for all to emblazon on their memories!)
So fun. But so painfully real. (Or maybe that's just my family, as between my husband and me, we have fourteen siblings, besides us, to be photographed, and a bajillion beautiful nieces and nephews!)
3) Seven-Day Magic (Tales of Magic #7)
Written by Edward Eager,
Illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
Do your kids enjoy the Edward Eager series? I have a few children who've read these books multiple times. I wish I'd known about them myself when I was a child--they have such a classic, relatable voice.
The best part of this book, Seven-Day Magic is the spot-on depiction of the sometimes-squabbling, sometimes-fiercely-best-friends/siblings' relationships. Fortunately, and satisfyingly so, in the end, the children in these two families always stick up for one another when it really counts.
Plus, what kid wouldn't revel in reading about a magic book (checked out from the library) that, when opened, is a record of the very conversations the children just had, and grants them their wildest wishes? In turn, the children learn the consequences of wishing for impractical things, and what is ultimately important--family.
4) Aunt Minne McGranahan, and
Aunt Minnie and the Twister,
Written by Mary Skillings Prigger,
Illustrated by Betsy Lewin
These books. I could never enjoy them too much. Tweaking what Dr. Seuss says, "I would read them in a box, I would read them with a fox."
While enjoying this story (based on actual events), the reader yearns for single Aunt Minnie and her nine adopted nieces and nephews to succeed, One can't help rooting for them as their load is heavy. And any parent with toddlers and a household to run has been there. So this story is equally satisfying for grown-ups and kids alike to read.
And who wouldn't want to see illustrations of a house that was picked up in a tornado and set back down again--but with the front facing the back yard, and the Johnny house? Good thing the johnny house wasn't lifted off its base too! WHEW!
Kirkus Review shares some cool insights:
If you like the Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type books, you'll definitely dig the pictures by the same illustrator, Betsy Lewin--so loose, but so accurate, all at once.
Lastly, the meat of the Aunt Minnie books is the time-worn values that Aunt Minnie teaches her nieces and nephews--that hard work leads to independence, and laughter gets us through the rough patches. That if we stick together, we're going to make it just fine. We might even even thrive.
5) That Book Woman
Written by by Heather Henson,
Illustrated by David Small
Okay, guys, why would I include a story about a pack-horse librarian in a review about family?
Because I am SO very grateful to have the public libraries opening up again after the worldwide shutdown last spring, that I've realized upon seeing my librarians' welcoming faces once more, that I've always honestly felt as if librarians ARE family! Don't you agree?
Besides, I've got a tender spot in my heart for soft-spoken, bookish souls who forgive me my mounting fines--or let me pay them without judging my utter absentmindedness. (FYI, I had a roommate in college who NEVER once had a library fine! Are you reading this, Meeja Mae? I am still amazed.)
And the sweet, unassuming family in this book and the change of tone in the protag's relationship with his bookish younger sister is super endearing. Here's a sampling of why this book's prose is so Pleasant:
Now me, I do not care one hoot for what that Book Woman has carried ‘round, and it would not bother me at all if she forgot the way back to our door.
Isn't that a lovely snatch of story? You can read the entire text and see the interior illustrations by following this link:
But even more fascinating is the actual history behind this story from the Great Depression era with FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt's Pack Horse Library Program. These women librarians who volunteered to serve remote citizens of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky were true heroines. They faced harsh conditions and risked much by taking distant residents the gift of reading (hope, really) up on the mountain tops through a difficult era of American history. After going without libraries for several months last spring, I think we all appreciate our own libraries and the librarians (who serve us so patiently) on new levels.
You can hear about the Works Progress Administration and the pack horse libraries program (with hot tips for several other adult books on the subject reviewed by a charming librarian with a cute accent) by following this link:
Enjoy the book! It will warm the most bookish cockles of your heart.
6) Andrew Henry's Meadow,
Written and Illustrated by Doris Burn
Given this is the very last of my monthly book reviews, as I begin homeschooling my two littlest girls on Thursday, it would only be fitting to share my all-time favorite picture book from my own childhood. From one avid reader to the next, I give you Andrew Henry's Meadow, written AND illustrated, by Doris Burn.
Who else of you knows this book? If you do, YOU MUST SHARE below and revel with my thrills! As a girl, I got lost in the incredible pen and ink drawings of this wonder every time I pored over it.
If you know this book, and adore it as I do, most definitely, tell me what struck you about it, and tell me if you too tried and failed miserably to replicate forts like those that Andrew Henry built. This book is a child's fantasy--escape the constricts of adult supervision and start a utopia for the all the neighborhood children with bothersome hobbies.
Please, share with me the way it made you feel as a child, if you remember this unique tale. It's such a classic book of imaginary escape and empowerment for children. I would love to know who else laid on their belly, chin in hands, poring over its detailed, whimsical sketches.
If you don't know of this book, Doris Burns's pictures are reminiscent of a slower, Norman Rockwell-esque era--when life was a little more predictable, perhaps even more stable. (Though society today would throw back its head and howl at me for saying so.)
The hours of playtime these fictional children in this book spend out-of-doors (sans devices, video games, or tablets) is WONDERFUL! This is childhood at its best! (Though the search by families and police at the end of the story...perhaps is a little too terrifying for real parents to experience. But for kids, they don't think about that stuff...so hey, it works in a picture book.)
So yes, I absolutely understand life is different now. Technology is inescapable--we all need it to get by today. Or so we think, right? (For Pete's sake--I've been clacking away at my laptop for three hours straight now this early morning!)
But, this book is a gentle reminder that we can give our children (and the next generation) the gift of living a real life--a tangible, touchable one, by encouraging them to go outside more. To feel the wind on their faces, to know the burn of their quad muscles as they race bikes around the neighborhood, and even to let children suffer injuries by experiencing the throb of pain after slamming their thumbs with a hammer, or skinning their knees after crashing on their push scooters.
I love to hear seasoned grandparents talk of letting kids get bored. It may have been easier way back when to let children roam freely, when there weren't so many forms of available digital entertainment...But we can let our own kids get bored (gasp!) too, by getting used to the idea of just turning screens off. Once we start hiding devices, or putting our feet down to not buy them, we can let kids find their own methods of entertainment! Novel idea!
"Can I play some Mine craft?" "Nope. Go catch bugs and get muddy." Yes! Easier said than done for a parent to let their child just run amuk in today's world--and it's not always possible (I know what it's like to bring babies and busy toddlers into this life in a tiny, two-bedroom home on a quarter of an acre, on a busy street corner with cars zipping by. It's tough. But even in inner cities, there are beautiful parks, trees, lovely grassy areas, and streams. Moms gravitate to them, right? Not to mention museums and fantastic libraries when there isn't much nature. And friends. Friends make everything okay, anywhere. So grateful for you close friends who have always made life so beautiful. You know who you are.
I know not everyone is surrounded by safe places. But in denser populations, if kids can travel in packs (where there are siblings to go round, or neighborhood friends available, we can feel a little better about them exploring the out-of-doors when we say, "Go outside and play!" Right?
So, if some days this fall, your kids go crazy with remote learning, and can't get to the grass, or the park, they can at least enjoy it vicariously in Andrew Henry's Meadow.
And if you as a parent feel like an old soul struggling in a modern-day body, (ahem...not that you or I would know anything about that, right?) you'd better watch this "read-aloud" video. (Just don't mock the tender sweetheart-of-a-gentleman who caresses the book with fondness as he introduces it. He'll make you chuckle out loud. Hey, I understand the guy. I love Andrew Henry too.): www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqsZQP62DkI
And just because I have cherished chatting over the most wonderful picture books ever with you over the last year...here is one last extra treat of a title about a boy who did find a way to play outside, even in the heart of Manhattan:
Up in the Leaves:
The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses,
Written by Shira Boss,
Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
I won't say much other than, Up in the Leaves is worth buying sight unseen. It's that golden. And the true story was written by the hero's wife, nonetheless.
it's poignant and touching. And just a feel-good tale about growing up, persevering, and surprisingly good things coming out of overcoming opposition. Check it out. You and your little people are going to love it!
So don't forget me (forget-me-nots pictured above, wink, wink...) as I disappear from monthly posting. For this, my friends, is the end of my stint as a book reviewer. ("Whew!" You're saying, "She was WAY too long-winded for the job." Yeah. I know.
Which is part of the reason I'm winding down. So one year ago, I set out to write a baker's dozen (thirteen months' worth) of reviews of my favorite children's books. Well, I finished the thirteenth this month!
And now I'm changing gears from working as artist and illustrator (and wannabe writer) to full-time homeschooler to my two youngest daughters for this crazy Co-vid year of 2020.
So, I'll be doing my best to teach my 2nd and 4th grader with everything Rightstart Math, Memoria Press, and Noeo Science, can instill! I'm actually VERY excited to spend the school year learning, experimenting, equating, cooking, reading, and playing with my two little brownies. We'll be learning Latin together. How exciting is that?! Excitando temporibus!
And now, since I won't be scrambling to write a book review monthly, perhaps I'll get around to using my early morning writing time to actually write the second draft of my novel manuscript this fall.
If any of you are interested, I'll be posting a chance to sign up for an e-mail list in the next few months. I'm looking for beta readers willing to go over my manuscript and give me their red pen scribbles come winter! My bookworm friends, I would love your input!
So, I may post something fun now and again about books, nature, motherhood, or art, but for now, I'm changing gears, and will just jump on here as time occasionally permits every few months.
So, wish us luck as we try to keep the peace on the remote learning days for the oldest four. Hopefully the youngest contingent will outgrow their knack for mortifying their middle school/high school sibling counterparts. (Sometimes it's a wrestling match from the youngest four while the oldest two are feigning composure during Zoom meetings with classmates. Why, oh, why must all the squawks and door slams always start just after someone has just joined a video call?!
Oh, well. Wishing you the best for education this year yourself, as we are all going to need it! Right?
So, as one last correspondence between us in this review, PLEASE, leave me your best homeschooling advice, or share with the rest of us the title of your most superlatively-favorite children's book ever (chapter or picture book) in the comments below...
Happy learning on your path to joy and meaning in your own quests to seek out of the best books and live creative lives! It's been a fun journey together this year! Wish me luck in homeschooling. And I'll wish you the best in your own creative endeavors.
Sincerely your contentedly-nerdy friend,