The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Hannah Greyweather spends her days trying to survive in the cold winter.  One day while out gathering firewood, she finds a boot and puts it on over the rags she has wrapped around her left foot. She can’t believe how warm the boot makes her foot, and when she goes to bed, she wishes she had a right one.  Lo and behold, the next morning, there’s a pair of boots at her bedside.  The day after that, there’s a pair of mittens tucked inside, and when she comes back from her chores, Hannah discovers her cabin has been replaced by a big, fancy house, complete with feast and feather bed.  A knock on the door reveals the source of the gifts—Santa himself, returning to reclaim his missing left boot.  As soon as he puts it on, everything goes back to the way it was.  Hannah doesn’t mind giving up the fancy house, but she tells Santa she did like the warm boots and mittens, and wouldn’t mind having someone to talk to.  The next morning, Santa has granted her wishes; when an “Arf” comes out of the left boot, Hannah discovers she has a new puppy for company.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A heartwarming holiday story, with splendid illustrations from Caldecott artist Jerry Pinkney.

Cons:  Let’s hope Hannah gives that left boot a thorough cleaning before sticking her foot into it.

The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young

Published by Philomel Books 

Summary:  A greedy cat lives in a huge palace atop Hunger Mountain that looks out over fields famous for their delicious rice.  But one year, drought strikes, and the harvest fails.  All the cat’s servants leave in search of food.  Finally, driven by starvation, the cat closes his palace and goes out into the countryside to find food for himself.  He learns of a monk who is giving away rice, and joins the long line to get his own bowl filled.  When he reaches the front of the line, he asks the monk where he got his food.  The monk replies that he was fortunate to live at the base of Hunger Mountain.  A rich lord washed so much of his cast-off rice down the stream, that the monk was able to collect more than he could ever use.  The cat realizes he is being saved by the food he once threw away.  For the first time ever, he feels truly blessed.  32 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  This simple but timely fable is strikingly illustrated with collages by Caldecott medalist Ed Young.  The message is one that can be discussed with readers of all ages.

Cons:  I wondered if this is a completely original tale or a retelling, but there was no introduction or afterword about it.

1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina

Published by Viking 

Summary:  The numbers from 1 through 10 are explored with the ingredients of a salad.  Each page has the numeral (1) and the word (one), along with an animal created from a fruit or vegetable.  There’s one avocado deer with a big brown nose made from the pit, two radish mice, three pepper monkeys, and so forth.  The produce has been photographed, then embellished with black line drawings to create the animals.  One big delicious salad is shown at the end, with a recipe for dressing on the very last page.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The graphics jump off the page in this fun introduction to both numbers and healthy eating.

Cons:  Will preschoolers want to eat those cute tomato turtles?

Science Comics: Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers by MK Reed, illustrated by Joe Flood

Published by First Second 

Summary:  Focusing mostly on humans’  gradual discoveries of the history of dinosaurs, this graphic science book covers paleontology from the Industrial Revolution to the present.  In 1800, the reader learns, it was believed that the Earth was 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs had vanished a few thousand years before in Noah’s flood, and that there were no examples of dinosaurs left.  The author updates these beliefs as she moves through history until 2000 when scientists believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old, dinosaurs lived over 25 million years ago, and descendants of dinosaurs are living today.  It’s a fascinating journey, with heroes and villains making discoveries, disputing the claims of their peers, and inching their way toward a better understanding of Earth’s history.  Back matter includes a glossary, a timeline of geologic eras, and a short list of further reading.  Part of a new “Science Comics” series that includes (or will soon include) books on coral reefs, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and the solar system.  128 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fascinating history of paleontology with some really spectacular graphics that do a great job of visually depicting concepts like dinosaur sizes and family trees.

Cons:  The list of books for further reading was pretty short, and the titles were several years old.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Christian Robinson

Published by HarperCollins 

Summary:  Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, first published in 1958, has been reissued with new illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson.  When a group of children find a dead bird in the woods, they decide to have a funeral for it.  They find a place to dig a hole, wrap the bird in grapevine leaves, and cover it with ferns and flowers.  They sing a song to the bird (lyrics included in the text), cry a little, cover up the bird with dirt, and place a stone on top reading “Here lies a bird that is dead.”  And every day, until they forget, they return to the gravesite to sing to the bird and decorate the stone with flowers.  32 pages, ages 4-8.

Pros:  This timeless story benefits from the new illustrations in a larger book.  I particularly liked the kid who wore a fox mask to the funeral, apparently practicing his own little ritual.  The story remains a gentle introduction to death and dying for children.

Cons:  I liked the way the original book had an interesting format of alternating pages of text and pictures, allowing the reader to focus on the words before looking at the picture.  The new version has text and pictures together.


Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux 

Summary:  11-year-old Charlie has been sent to live with her Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus while her father serves a jail term and her mother “gets back on her feet”.  Charlie’s not exactly sure what that means, but she does know that she doesn’t want to be living in the hillbilly town of Colby, North Carolina away from her home in Raleigh and her big sister Jackie.  She doesn’t much care for Howard, the neighbor boy who tries to befriend her, and she’s not sure what she thinks of her loquacious, quirky aunt.  Charlie’s a big believer in making wishes, and she has one wish that she makes whenever she gets a chance, whether it’s finding a penny, seeing the first star come out, or getting the bigger part of the wishbone.  In fact, Wishbone is the name she gives to the stray dog she glimpses in the woods near her aunt and uncle’s home, and she enlists Howard to help her with a plan to catch the dog and turn him into a pet.  Their plan succeeds, and Wishbone turns out to be the first good thing to happen to Charlie in a long time.  When Jackie comes for a visit, Charlie gets a chance to see her surroundings through new eyes, and begins to appreciate the people who care about her.  A surprise phone call from her mother turns her world upside down and forces Charlie to make some difficult choices.  240 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  The adorable, appealing cover is just the beginning of a heartwarming story of a girl who’s had way too much to deal with in her short life, yet still has the resiliency and heart to slowly learn to care about the people around her.  Keep the Kleenex close at hand as you approach the final chapters.

Cons:  I’d love to know what happens to Charlie and Jackie, but I have a feeling this will be a stand-alone book.

Owl Sees Owl by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

Published by Schwartz and Wade Books 

Summary:  Each page has just four words on it, starting with “Home Mama Brother Sister”.  Owl leaves the nest for a nighttime flight (“Soar Glide Swoop Swoosh”).  In the middle of the book, he lands on a branch over the water and sees his reflection: Owl Sees Owl.  The rest of the book’s pages mirror the first half of the book; as the owl returns home, there’s a page with “Swoosh Swoop Glide Soar”, the reverse order of those same words on an earlier page.  Finally, the owl lands back in his nest, and the last page reads, “Sister Brother Mama Home”.  40 pages, ages 3-8.

Pros:  This reminded me of Marilyn Singer’s reverso poetry books, in which the second verse is the opposite of the first, changing the meaning.  There are plenty of strong nouns and verbs, since each word has to do a lot of work to tell the story.  The pictures perfectly capture Owl’s silent nighttime world.

Cons:  It took me a few readings to realize the second half of the book was the reverse of the first half; without guidance, kids may miss this cool feature.