Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Two boys are drawing lines in this wordless book, their backs to each other.  When they bump into each other, they connect their lines, and the line becomes a string.  The string is fun to play with, until the play turns mean.  As they engage in a tug-of-war, a chasm appears, gradually widening and pushing them further apart.  A shared smile creates the means for closing the gap, turning it into a path that they can travel on together.  48  pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This simple story and black-and-white illustrations could be a starting point for all kinds of discussions about friendship and conflict resolution.

Cons:  A review I read mentioned color in the illustrations, and there are colors in the picture (above) that I found online, but the copy of the book I had was all in black and white.

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

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Toby is hiking the Appalachian Trail from his home in Vermont to the northern end in Maine.  From the opening scene, it is evident he’s not as knowledgeable and well-prepared as he should be for such a strenuous journey, but it is equally clear that his determination comes from a need to prove himself.  As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the friendship between Lucas, the leader, and Toby, the follower, and of the bucket list they made one June with ten goals for the summer.  One of these, “Jump off the rope swing at the quarry”, led to Lucas’s death, and Toby’s guilt over this has driven him, a year later, to try to cross off the final item, “Hike the Appalachian Trail from Velvet Rocks to Katahdin”.  Along the way, he befriends two older boys; they save him from hypothermia, and Toby later saves one of their lives.  He also rescues an abused dog who teaches him the power of love. Toby’s growth as a hiker along the journey becomes a metaphor for his personal growth, as he finally learns to forgive himself and move on.  240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Plenty of adventure and the gradual unfolding of Toby’s and Lucas’s story will keep readers moving quickly along The Trail.

Cons:  The whole “wilderness journey as life metaphor” has been done before (hello, Gary Paulsen); but of course that doesn’t mean readers won’t be able to enjoy yet another take on it.

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

A week off

I was fortunate enough to get a Baker and Taylor grant to attend the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Conference in Phoenix, Arizona this year.  I’m leaving tomorrow morning and will be back Saturday night, so I’m taking a short vacation from the blog.  Don’t worry, I have a stack of books to read on the plane, and will be up and running again no later than next Monday.  Is anyone else going to AASL?  Let me know, and maybe we can meet up!

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Picking up right after The War That Saved My Life ended, the story begins in the hospital where Ada is awaiting an operation on her clubfoot.  The surgery is successful; shortly afterward, Ada and her brother Jamie get the news that their abusive mother is dead, killed by a German bomb.  Susan is now the children’s legal guardian, and she moves the family into a cottage on Lord and Lady Thorton’s property.  Before long, Lady Thorton is forced to join them.  Susan needs a job, and Lord Thorton finds her one, tutoring Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany who is studying for her entrance exams for Oxford.  At first, everyone is unwelcoming to Ruth, unwilling to trust anyone who is German, but slowly she becomes a part of the makeshift family.  The inevitable tragedies of war teach Ada about courage, trust, and love, as she slowly starts to heal the scars from the years with her mother, and learns to embrace her new family and home.  400 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Here’s that rare sequel that is every bit as good as the first one.  So many memorable characters, all of whom must deal with multiple heartbreaks from the war, but do so with courage and grace.  Carve out some time before opening this up; it’s hard to put down once you start.

Cons:  Although this book is every bit as deserving of Newbery recognition as The War That Saved My Life, I would be surprised if the committee gives another award for the sequel.

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

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

Summary:  James Castle was deaf, mute, and autistic.  He never learned to read or speak.  He spent a good portion of his childhood in the loft of an unused icehouse, and later lived in an abandoned chicken coop.  His parents and teachers actively discouraged him from art, but he kept creating it any way he could.  He would collect scrap paper, and use a burned match and saliva to draw.  The people and animals he created from cast-off cardboard became his friends.  His nephew, Cort Conley, loved to watch him draw.  When Cort went to art school, he showed one of his teachers his Uncle Jimmy’s work.  The professor was so excited, he drove to Boise, Idaho to meet James, and later organized an exhibit in Portland, Oregon.  Other exhibits and sales followed, and when James Castle died, he left behind over 15,000 pieces of art.  An author’s note explains how Allen Say came to write this book after being asked by his friend Cort to create a portrait of his uncle.  64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A sad but fascinating story of a man who was pretty much treated like trash by everyone who knew him, including his own family, yet continued to create art whenever and wherever he could.  Much of Allen Say’s art is done in the style of Castle’s, and may very well be considered for a Caldecott.

Cons:  I wasn’t sure if the illustrations were done by Castle, or by Say in Castle’s style.  If they were the originals, some captions would have been helpful; if they weren’t, I would have liked to see some of the originals at the end of the book.

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

The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu, illustrated by Manuela Adreani

Published by Lantana Publishing

Summary:  Etabo dreams about being the best camel racer ever.  His older brothers and sisters make fun of him, saying he’s too small to race camels, but he doesn’t care.  His dreams are put on hold, though, when his family has to sell all the camels to buy water.  Then his older siblings have to leave to find work, leaving Etabo at home to take care of the family’s goats.  When he prays to Akuj the Sky God, Akuj replies, “Your dreams are enough.”  His older sister is sympathetic, and spends her free time carving Etabo a set of wooden camels.  Encouraged by his new camels and his family’s love, Etabo realizes that his dreams are, in fact, enough for now.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A simple story that will introduce children to the Turkana people of Kenya, and a boy with dreams that kids around the world will understand.  The illustrations capture the beauty of the Kenyan landscape.

Cons:  Some back matter with more information about Etabo and his home would have been useful.

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

Cancer Hates Kisses by Jessica Reid Sliwerski, illustrated by Mika Song

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  The two young narrators in this story have a mom who has been diagnosed with cancer.  In their eyes, Mom is a superhero who “kicks cancer’s butt hard”.  She is strong and brave as she goes through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  She has “warrior wounds” from surgery and looks fierce when she loses her hair. Sometimes she has to rest and sometimes she cries, but the family discovers what cancer hates:  kisses, hugs, laughter, smiles, high fives, dance parties, and love.  Includes notes from cancer specialist Dr. Elisa Port and the author, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was a baby.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent resource for children with a family member who is dealing with cancer.  The optimistic tone and light-hearted illustrations provide a good balance for the serious subject.  Surgery, chemo, and radiation are not sugarcoated, either in the text or the pictures, but the strong, upbeat tone gives kids reason to hope for the best outcome.

Cons:  Despite the optimistic presentation, it’s hard not to get a lump in your throat when reading this.

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