12 books of Christmas

Starting the day after Christmas, I’ll be posting my year-end lists of Caldecott and Newbery predictions and my favorite books in different categories. I found myself with an higher-than-usual number of books at the end of the year that I had wanted to review, but didn’t get to before time ran out. That number turned out to be twelve, so as a little Christmas gift, here is a list of my final dozen books for 2020.

Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Thomas Nelson

Tani's New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America: Adewumi,  Tanitoluwa, Dawson, Courtney: 9781400218288: Amazon.com: Books

The true story of Tani Adewumi, who moved to New York City as a Nigerian refugee at the age of 6. He discovered chess, and practiced it for hours in a homeless shelter. In less than a year, he was the New York State Chess Champion. I haven’t had a chance to see this book. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, so I’m not sure if there is any religious content to the story. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Louisa Uribe

Published by HarperCollins

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5: Dealey, Erin, Uribe, Luisa:  9780062915320: Amazon.com: Books

The kids in room 5 begin a correspondence with Earth, learning different ways to help the planet like recycling and energy conservation. Rhyming text, letter writing, and environmental tips make this an appealing choice for Earth Day or any time of year. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War by Bassel Abou Fakher and Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Saving Stella: A Dog's Dramatic Escape from War: Fakher, Bassel Abou,  Blumenthal, Deborah, Kaadan, Nadine: 9781547601332: Amazon.com: Books

When Bassel was forced to flee Syria, he had to leave his beloved dog Stella behind. After settling in a new home in Belgium, he worked with friends back in Syria to create a daring plan to rescue Stella. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Rabbit, Raven, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illustrated by Jennifer Faria

Published by Pajama Press

Raven, Rabbit, Deer: Farrell Holler, Sue, Faria, Jennifer: 9781772781366:  Amazon.com: Books

There’s a copy of this book traveling to my library right now, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. A boy and his grandfather enjoy a winter’s day together, finding animal tracks and identifying the animals in both English and Ojibwemowin. Sounds like a cozy winter choice. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When You Trap a Tiger: Keller, Tae: 9781524715717: Amazon.com: Books

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily meets a tiger straight out of the Korean folklore she’s grown up on. This book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor and received five starred reviews. Personally, I couldn’t really get into it and only read about the first third back in the beginning of the year. Everyone else loved it, though, and it could definitely be a contender for more awards. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

Published by Kokila

Antiracist Baby Board Book: Kendi, Ibram X., Lukashevsky, Ashley:  9780593110416: Amazon.com: Books

Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is #15 on Amazon’s list of 2020’s bestsellers. Here he offers nine tips for being (or raising) an antiracist baby, with a note to parents and teachers at the end. Available as both a board book and a regular picture book. 32 pages; ages 0-4.

Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang, illustrated by Heidi Doll

Published by Reycraft Books

Woodpecker Girl: Chiang, I-Tsun, Liu, Chingyen: 9781478869559: Amazon.com:  Books

A girl with cerebral palsy tells how she learned to paint with a brush strapped to her forehead. An amazing gallery of her work is included. Told in the first person, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges she faces and the discouragement she feels, but also expresses her joy at sharing with others through her art. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Greenwillow Books

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Amazon.com: Books

I just got this book on December 23, so haven’t had a chance to read it. These 100 poems by Young People’s Poet Laureate Nye start with a section of poems on childhood, both her own and others. She also explores her Palestinian heritage and the need for peace, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of people in the world. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Unstoppable: (Family Read-Aloud book, Silly Book About Cooperation) -  Kindle edition by Rex, Adam, Park, Laura. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

A crow being pursued by a hungry cat and a crab who dreams of flying work together to help one another. When they add a turtle and a bear, they become UNSTOPPABLE! At least until they see a bulldozer digging up the lakefront to build a mall. Then it’s off to see the President of the United States…and Congress…and things really get zany as only Adam Rex can imagine them. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood  (9780374313715): Shulevitz, Uri: Books - Amazon.com

Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz’s memoir covers his childhood from his days in Warsaw at the start of World War II to his family’s harrowing experiences in the Soviet Union during the war and their postwar years in Paris before emigrating to Paris when he was 14. Although it’s a thick book, the print is large and filled with Shulevitz’s illustrations, making it a quick and engaging read. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Published by Barefoot Books

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India: Sriram, Meera, Cabassa, Mariona:  9781646860616: Amazon.com: Books

Another one I haven’t gotten to see, but I love the brilliant colors of the cover (and pictures I’ve seen of the illustrations). A girl shops in an Indian market to find the perfect gift for her mother. 32 pages; ages 4-7.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

Published by Charlesbridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire: Tunnell, Michael  O.: 9781580897891: Amazon.com: Books

When Mae Yanagi was eight years old, she and her family were forced to move to Topaz Camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. She and her third-grade classmates created a diary of their daily lives in camp, filled with mundane details about school and family life, as well as descriptions of the difficulties of camp life. Michael Tunnell tells their story with plenty of photographs and excerpts from the diary. 144 pages; grades 4-7.

Selena: Queen of Tejano Music by Silvia López, illustrated by Paola Escobar

Published by little bee books

Amazon.com: Selena, reina de la música tejana (9781499811438): López, Silvia,  Escobar, Paola: Books
Amazon.com: Queen of Tejano Music: Selena (9781499809770): López, Silvia,  Escobar, Paola: Books

Summary:  Growing up in Texas, Selena Quintanilla was surrounded by music from an early age.  Her father taught her older siblings to play guitar and drums, and Selena soon proved herself to be a natural performer, singing and dancing to their music.  By the time she was nine years old, they were performing regularly in her father’s restaurant.  A few years later, the restaurant went out of business and the family fell on hard times.  Touring and making music seemed like the only way to make a living.  There was a demand for Tejano music, so Selena learned Spanish to perform the popular songs.  By the time she was in her late teens, Selena was an award-winning star, loved in both Mexico and the U.S.  She also was a popular celebrity, treating both her fans and co-workers with kindness and respect.  The final page memorializes Selena as a trailblazer and role model.  Includes several pages of additional information about Selena and her music, ending with a few paragraphs about her murder at the age of 23. A Spanish-language version of this book, Selena: Reina de la Música Tejana is also available. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Here’s another book I’ve been anticipating for several months, as my music-loving daughter has gotten me interested in learning more about Selena.  As I imagine is true for many others, I only knew about her death, so I’m glad this book has been written to celebrate her life and legacy.  There’s a lot of text, but the story is so engaging it doesn’t feel like a lot to plow through, and the illustrations really capture Selena’s spirit.  I was even inspired to watch the official video of “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, which is an incredibly catchy tune.  Sadly, as the book concludes, quoting Selena biographer Joe Nick Patoski: “The debate will never cease as to what could have been.”

Cons:  This book seems to be getting recommended for the 6-9 age group, but I think older kids will appreciate it more, due to both the text-heavy story and the tragic ending.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul: Weatherford, Carole Boston,  Morrison, Frank: 9781534452282: Amazon.com: Books
The Original Art 2020: The Exhibit - Society of Illustrators

Summary:  The story of Aretha Franklin’s life is told in rhyming couplets, each one titled with a word written like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in the title.  Starting with “B-L-E-S-S-E-D”, showing a young Aretha praying while her parents watch, the story traces her life and career from singing gospel at her church to performing at President Obama’s inauguration.  In addition to her musical career, Aretha’s civil rights work is touched upon.  The final two pages celebrate both her legacy and her humility, ending with her description of her voice as “the gift that God gave me”.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Aretha Franklin’s life and a list of her biggest hits.  48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The large, colorful illustrations capture Aretha Franklin’s big personality and singing voice, starting with a gorgeous pink Cadillac on the title page. This is the third book I’ve reviewed this year illustrated by the prolific Frank Morrison, and I hope he gets some recognition at awards time.  This would make a good companion to A Voice Named Aretha.

Cons:  Those who don’t know much about Aretha Franklin’s life may struggle to make sense of the brief text unless they start with the author’s note at the end.

Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Bunheads: Copeland, Misty, Fiadzigbey, Setor: 9780399547645: Amazon.com:  Books
Bunheads: Copeland, Misty, Fiadzigbey, Setor: 9780399547645: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  Misty is excited to hear in her first ballet class that they will be performing Coppélia.  She listens carefully to her teacher’s retelling of the story, and decides she wants the role of Swanilda.  She’s concerned that another girl named Cat might be a rival, but Cat decides to audition for Coppélia.  When the cast is announced, both Misty and Cat get the parts they wanted.  They work hard to prepare, inspiring each other, and by the time the big night arrives, both are ready to deliver a flawless performance.  Both girls are front and center for the final curtain call, smiling happily and wondering what their next ballet will be.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Aspiring dancers will enjoy this story featuring a young Misty Copeland, and will learn the basics of the story of Coppélia.  The illustrations enhance the story and demonstrate some of the ballet steps mentioned.

Cons:  Readers may be disappointed when they’re not selected for a starring role in their first year of ballet like Misty is.  And speaking of Misty, I would have enjoyed some back matter connecting this story to the real Misty Copeland.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Wild Symphony by Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori

Published by Rodale Kids

Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books
Wild Symphony: Brown, Dan, Batori, Susan: 9780593123843: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Maestro Mouse is your guide through this musical romp starring the animal kingdom.  Each page includes a poem or two about the featured animal, concluding with a sign held by Maestro Mouse offering a lesson that can be derived from the poem.  Sharp-eyed readers will also spot letters in each picture that, when put together, spell out a word.  The animals and words come together in the final gatefold page that shows all the animals playing music in an orchestra.  Includes an author’s note from Dan Brown (yes, that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and many other books for adults) and endpapers showing and identifying the different musical instruments.  Also includes an app that can be downloaded to listen to musical accompaniment throughout the story.  44 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  A fun introduction to both animals and musical instruments.  I did not download the app, but it sounds like an enjoyable way to experience the music introduced in the book.  The hidden letters and coded words will please those who like puzzles.

Cons:  Poems, a series of (didactic) lessons, musical instruments, hidden letters, word scrambles, and an app that plays music…felt like a bit too much to unpack for one picture book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Lian Cho

Published by Greenwillow Books

The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom: Venable, Colleen AF, Cho, Lian:  9780062494375: Amazon.com: Books
Fall 2020 Children's Announcements: Publishers F-L

Summary: Band director Mr. V. says there is a perfect instrument for everyone, and proceeds to introduce them one by one.  He invites each player to give a demonstration, but every time Felicity bangs her bass drum, “Boom Boom Boom” and drowns out the other instrument.  Mr. V. continues, explaining the reed on a clarinet, the double reed on an oboe, the valves on a trumpet, and so forth, but gets increasingly agitated as Felicity doesn’t stop with the drum.  Finally, he introduces the one instrument that can drown out Felicity: the tuba.  Its “WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP” overpowers the “Boom Boom Boom” so that when it’s finally time to introduce the percussion section, the tables are turned on Felicity.  The final two pages introduce the real-life musicians who inspired the kids in the band, with a short biographical paragraph about each.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A fun introduction to band instruments with interesting facts about each one.  This would be perfect to read to those elementary kids trying to decide what they want to play.  Connecting each kid in the story to a real-life musician who plays (or played) their instrument is a nice added touch.

Cons:  If the oboe is considered a band instrument, it seems like the bassoon and French horn should have been included too.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead by Evan Turk

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the  Rosetta Bead - Kindle edition by Turk, Evan, Turk, Evan. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
A Thousand Glass Flowers: Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the  Rosetta Bead: Turk, Evan, Turk, Evan: 9781534410343: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Marietta Barovier grew up in fifteenth-century Murano, an island near Venice, where her father and brothers worked as glassblowers.  She wanted to learn the craft, but it wasn’t something girls did.  She persisted, though, hanging around the shop, and finally her father showed her how.  One day, she and her father took a trip to Venice to visit a wealthy patron.  Marietta discovered a small glass bowl covered with flowers, and was told that the technique for making such glass had been lost.  Years later, she remembered the bowl when she tried a new technique, layering different colors of glass together to make beads.  These rosetta beads became valuable currency and spread throughout the world. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Barovier and her beads, and a note about the art. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Evan Turk’s dazzling illustrations were inspired by Renaissance and Impressionist artists, with hues of yellow, gold, and orange that capture the fiery heat of glassblowing and the light and energy of Venice.  The story of Marietta is fascinating (although slightly fictionalized, since records about her are sparse), and could make a nice addition to an art curriculum.

Cons:  Although there are a couple photos of Evan Turk learning to blow glass and sketching in Italy, I would have liked to have seen some of the beads.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Chloe Bristol

Published by Versify

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey: Mortensen, Lori ...

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey plus Author Interview ...

Summary:  Growing up in Chicago, Edward Gorey was an avid reader, enjoying books as different from each other as Alice In Wonderland and Dracula.  A solitary child who skipped three grades and moved a dozen times, he loved passing hours writing and drawing.  After a stint in the army and four years at Harvard, Edward moved to New York City where he worked in the art department of a publisher.  After work, he wrote his own stories filled with ghastly silliness.  A group of mothers found his book The Beastly Baby so disturbing that they ripped it up and mailed the pieces to him.  But Edward was rarely influenced by what other people thought, and went his own way to achieve his own form of success.  Includes an author’s note with additional information, a photo, and additional sources of information.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Any fan of Edward Gorey’s work will appreciate this homage, written and illustrated in a very similar style.  Try introducing Gorey to young Lemony Snicket fans.

Cons:  Those not familiar with Gorey’s works, including most of today’s kids, may not fully appreciate this book. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids (Released October 15)

Buy My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer Book ...

Summary:  Suzi Eszterhas shares how she became a wildlife photographer, beginning with her experiences as a child taking pictures of her cats in her backyard.  Over the years, she has traveled around the globe, often living in a tent and enduring difficult and occasionally dangerous conditions (no showers, lots of insects, airsickness while taking aerial photos, a charging gorilla) to capture the photographs that have appeared in her many books and helped raise awareness for endangered species.  Many of her photographs appear in the text. The final pages answer some of the questions she is most frequently asked. 32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  As a Suzi Eszterhas fan who has promoted her books to kids over the years (most notably Moto and Me), I am delighted to learn that she’ll have this up-close-and-personal look at her life coming out in the fall.  Kids will enjoy reading about her adventurous life and seeing her photos of a wide variety of animals. Clearly, wildlife photography has been a boys’ club for a long time, and Suzi explains how she had to prove she was tough enough to be a part of it–which this book makes very clear she has done successfully.

Cons:  I got this copy off of NetGalley, and it didn’t include all the photos…however, I feel confident they will be excellent and highly appealing to kids.

If you would like to pre-order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

Q&A: Wildlife Photographer Suzi Eszterhas | Sierra Club

 

Katarina Ballerina by Tiler Peck and Kyle Harris, illustrated by Sumiti Collina

Published by Aladdin (released May 5)

Thanks to Aladdin for providing me with a free review copy of this book.

Katarina Ballerina (1): Peck, Tiler, Harris, Kyle, Collina, Sumiti ...

Summary:  Katarina dreams of being a dancer like her late mother was, but her father is struggling to make ends meet.  She teachers herself enough ballet though YouTube to put together a routine for the school talent show. Her performance is less than stellar, but her dad sees her passion for dancing and offers to pay for some lessons.  Katarina is thrilled until she goes to the first lesson and feels completely in over her head. Fortunately, a girl in the class named Sunny offers to help and the two become good friends. They agree to perform together in a competition for a ballet camp scholarship, but a series of obstacles puts their dream of winning in jeopardy.  Katarina and Sunny make a good team, though, and help from supportive adults brings about a happy ending for all. 192 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Budding dancers will enjoy reading about Katarina’s experiences and everyone will root for her as she tackles one problem after another with resourcefulness and determination.  Illustrations throughout the book will make this appealing to younger readers.  

Cons:  Many of the situations seemed unrealistic, like Katarina and Sunny being allowed to dance by themselves in front of Lincoln Center to raise money for Katarina’s lessons, then having an usher invite them to a free performance and get them backstage passes to meet one of the dancers (Tiler Peck, one of the authors).

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.