The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam

Published by Owlkids Books

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story: Lam, Thao: 9781771473637: Amazon.com: Books
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Thao Lam's The  Paper Boat

Summary:  Thao Lam and her family escaped from Vietnam in 1980 when she was two years old.  This wordless book shows her family’s journey, starting with a dinner in their Vietnam home where they’re planning their escape.  The author’s note explains how, as a child, her mother used to rescue ants from the sugar water left in the house to trap them.  When her mother was lost in the tall grass during her escape, a trail of ants led the family to the river and their escape boat.  The illustrations show a parallel journey of ants escaping in a paper boat as the family is traveling in a larger ship.  One of those ants crawls into a meal that turns out to be Thao Lam’s family dinner in their new apartment in Canada.  Includes an author’s note giving more information about her family’s experience and her mother’s story about the ants.  40 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  The cut paper illustrations do an amazing job of telling this refugee family’s story, cleverly bookending the tale with two family dinners, and weaving the story of the ants in seamlessly.  

Cons:  Reviews I read recommended this book for kids as young as 5, but I think the nature of the story and the way it’s told make it more of an upper elementary and middle school book. I wish the author’s note had been at the beginning to help me understand the story before I began.

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

Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Amazon.com: Books

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A boy and his father wake at dawn to go for a hike.  From the drawings scattered about the boy’s bedroom and the way he seems to know just what to do to get ready, it seems like they’ve done this before.  They drive out of the city and into the wilderness, where they enjoy a day of hiking, climbing, and exploring.  They take pictures and look at things with a magnifying glass.  They hunt for animal tracks, find a waterfall, and scale a rocky summit, where they watch bald eagles soar overhead.  At the end of the day, they’re home again, celebrating with milk and cookies and looking at photo albums, having made another memory to share.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will want to get out in nature when they see all there is to explore in a single day.  This book celebrates both hiking and a warm father-son relationship, and would make a perfect pairing with Jennifer Mann’s The Camping Trip.  I’ll definitely be putting this in my “Caldecott contender” collection at the end of the year.

Cons:  I would call this a wordless book, but if I do, kids are sure to tell me, “There’s a word!” as soon as I turn a page.  Do not ask me how I know this.  So, fine, I would say there are between 8 and 12 words in this book, depending on how you count them. 

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

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Published by Scholastic

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Summary:  Before getting to the title page, this wordless book takes the reader on a brief journey from a forest being logged to a paper mill to a hardware store where a boy and his father buy a flashlight that’s put in a paper bag.  As the main story begins, Dad makes his son lunch and packs it in that paper bag, now decorated with a single red heart.  As the boy grows up, he learns to fix cars and play guitars, still accompanied by the bag that holds tools, music, or snacks.  The bag goes off to college with him and plays a role in the young man meeting his future wife (who adds a second heart).  The two have their own son (heart #3), whose loving grandfather helps the boy add a fourth heart.  The bag’s final job is as a container for a sapling, which the family plants, completing the cycle back to the forest.  Includes an author’s note telling how the first Earth Day inspired him to use the same paper lunch bag for three years of high school (then gave it to a friend who used it for another year!).  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Henry Cole has produced another masterful wordless book that is easy to understand yet deeply celebrates family and the environment.  Young readers will find themselves thinking more about where their “disposable” paper goods come from after enjoying this story.

Cons:  This might not live up to kids’ expectations of “an amazing journey”.

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

Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka

Published by Candlewick

Image result for dandelion's dream amazon

Image result for dandelion's dream tanaka

Summary:  A dandelion dreams of becoming a dandy lion and going on many adventures:  riding on a train, sailing on a ship, visiting the city. Finally, he rides in a small biplane, where he gets an aerial view of all the city lights.  As he watches, the blurry lights transform into puffy dandelions, and he is back in the field. He’s gone from yellow to white, and on the last pages, seeds blow from him into the dark sky, forming the shape of a pouncing lion.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The illustrations in this wordless picture book have a surreal, dreamy quality, perfect for the story.  The story is straightforward and easy to understand, but could easily prompt more discussion, writing, or art.

Cons:  I was disappointed that Dandelion didn’t fly off the ship on his bird friend’s back.

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

Stormy:  A Story About Finding A Forever Home by Guojing

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for stormy guojing

Image result for stormy guojing

Summary:  A woman notices a stray dog in the park at the start of this wordless book.  Day after day, she tries to gently coax him to come to her, but he’s shy. Finally, he begins to play a cautious game of fetch with her.  One night, he follows her home.  As he stands outside her door, it begins to rain. Soon he’s soaked and seeks shelter in a cardboard box.  While he’s asleep, the woman comes dashing out of her house and runs to the park. Clearly, she’s looking for the dog, and when she doesn’t find him, she dispiritedly returns home.  Outside her front door, she sees the ball they used for fetch, and discovers her friend inside the box. He finally allows her to pick him up, and inside he dries off and has a good meal.  At bedtime, she shows him the pillows at the foot of her bed, but he prefers to curl up on her bed, and that’s where he is as the two of them sleep on the last page. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  If you need your heartstrings tugged, this is the book for you.  The illustrations are gorgeous with interesting lights and shadows showing different times of day and night.  The pictures tell the story clearly, so kids will have no trouble understanding what is going on. 

Cons:  You will definitely get a lump in your throat reading this one.

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

Fly! by Mark Teague

Published by Beach Lane Books

Image result for fly mark teague

Image result for fly mark teague

Summary:  A young bird and its parent engage in wordless dialogue in this story about getting up the courage to leave the nest.  After feeding its offspring endless worms, the parent is ready for the youngster to fly. But they have different ideas about this, especially when the little bird leaves the nest and tumbles straight to the ground.  Readers see their communication as pictures in cartoon bubbles; the older bird tries to convince with pictures of soaring eagles and flights to Florida, while the younger one imagines riding in an airplane, traveling in a hot-air balloon, and biking to Florida.  Finally, the real threat of becoming an owl’s dinner convinces the kid to try again, and both birds end up happily back in their nest as the moon rises over them.

Pros:  I learned about this book in a recent edition of one of my favorite Caldecott predictors, and while I’m not sure it’s quite medal-worthy, it is a lot of fun.  Sometimes wordless books can be confusing, but this is one that even the youngest readers will enjoy.

Cons:  The parent seemed overly indulgent of its slightly bratty child.

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

The Fisherman and the Whale by Jessica Lanan

Published by Simon and Schuster

Image result for fisherman whale lanan amazon

Image result for fisherman whale lanan amazon

Summary:  While a boy and his fisherman father work at hauling in their catch in this wordless tale, a whale gets tangled in nets and line under the water.  As the boat is heading home, the boy spots the whale’s tail in the distance and convinces his father to investigate. As they get closer, they can see that the whale’s mouth is wrapped in fishing line.  In a daring rescue, the fisherman jumps into the water with a knife, and manages to cut the whale free, repeatedly diving beneath the water to slice away the lines and nets. Safely back on the boat, the man and his son share a hug before hearing something in the water.  They look to see the whale leap from the water, and they exchange a wave and some smiles before each one heads off into the sunset. Includes an author’s note with more information about the dangers of fishing to whales, dolphins, and porpoises, as well as a note cautioning kids not to try any sort of rescue themselves.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I do love a good wordless book, and this one has gorgeous watercolor illustrations that tell the story clearly enough for preschoolers to understand.  The environmental message is a nice bonus.

Cons:  Even though the fisherman managed to save this particular whale, he still seems to be engaging in an activity that has the potential to kill other marine mammals.

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

Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare

Published by Margaret Ferguson

Image result for field trip to the moon amazon

Image result for field trip to the moon john hare

Summary:  At the start of this wordless picture book a school bus approaches the moon, and a group of space suited kids and adults head out to explore the surface, peering into craters and jumping over chasms.  One child hangs back, eventually propping herself up against a rock and using crayons and a pad of paper to sketch the Earth. She nods off, waking up to a deserted moon and a glimpse of the flying bus in the black sky.  With nothing else to do, she gets out her art supplies again. As she draws, a group of blobby gray aliens surround her to watch. They’re intrigued with the colors, and when she offers them crayons, they use them to decorate the gray moon rocks and each other.  When the bus reappears, they scatter. An adult comes out and hugs the child, then insists she clean the drawings off the moon rocks. The two go off to board the bus, as alien hands holding crayons rise out of the moon’s surface to wave goodbye. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This ode to imagination stands out from the plethora of moon books being published this year in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.  There’s plenty to see on each page, yet the story is straightforward enough for kids to understand (something I sometimes struggle with in wordless books).

Cons:  What teacher doesn’t take attendance when the kids get back on the bus?

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

Image result for field trip to the moon john hare

I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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

Another by Christian Robinson

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for another christian robinson amazon

Image result for another christian robinson amazon

Summary:  It’s bedtime for a girl and her cat as this wordless picture book opens; the cat sees a portal open in her wall, and a nearly-identical cat walks through and grabs a red toy mouse from the floor.  The girl wakes up, and the two follow the new cat out through the hole. They find themselves in a new world where up is down and down is up.  Other portals lead to new places where dozens of other children are playing. Finally, the girl and cat meet up with their doubles (except for a few details that are blue instead of red).  The blue-collared cat tosses the red mouse to the red-collared cat, and he and the girl return to their bedroom. Everything seems to be just as it was at the beginning of the story…except that now there is a blue toy mouse on the floor.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This is a real feast for the imagination…so much to look at it in the illustrations and a lot to speculate on in the crazy mixed-up world that Christian Robinson has beautifully created.

Cons:  I was pretty confused my first time through this book.

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