Monday, May 16, 2022

The Pleasure of a Nighttime Walk: a Picture Books Roundup

When I was a kid nighttime exploration (with an adult) was one of my favorite summertime things to do.
We often rode our bikes around Prospect Park lake at dusk, went to Coney Island for picnic dinners and fireworks, and my dad taught me how to recognize flowers and plants, stars and constellations. So, when I started reading Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog Take an Evening Stroll, I saddened to discover that some of my young readers are afraid of being out at night even when they are with an adult. And they told me that after they get home, they almost never go back out after dark. So I put together a roundup of picture books for them to get a taste of the pleasure of a nighttime walk, even if it is vicariously. I should mention my young readers are 4-5 years old and we read these books over a period of time so as not to overwhelm them.

Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog 
Take an Evening Stroll
written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
translated from the German by Nicola Stuart
Prestel Publishing, 2022, 32 pages
As evening comes on, Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog head for home, but as they go along, Little Hedgehog keeps wanting to stop. First, he wants to wait until the sun sets, so they sit down and watch the sun disappear, before continuing on their way.But then, Little Hedgehog wants to stop and wait for the moon to rise. After the moon rise, they pass a field of beautiful flowers and Little Hedgehog wants to stop and smell the flowers, stopping to inhale their beautiful scent. After hearing the tu-whit, tu-whoo of some owls, Little Hedgehog convinces Bigh Hedgehog to to stop and visit before waving goodbye as they head for home. But there are still things to stop and look at - clouds in the sky, frogs in the pond singing their evening song, fireflies lighting up the night, and finally, just before they get home, a sky filled with stars to be counted. But Little Hedgehog doesn't get far with counting before he falls asleep and Big Hedgehog carries him home to bad. At first, it feels like Little Hedgehog is procrastinating, trying to postpone his bedtime. But really, this is a book about slowing down and taking the time to look at and appreciate the world around us. It's a gentle, soothing story and I  love the relationship between Big Hedgehog and Little Hedgehog, and I can't help but thing that Big Hedgehog has a level of patience many adults lack, but might be inspired by. The illustrations, textured collages and soft brush strokes, are done in a palette of colors in nature and I like the way the illustrations reflect the oncoming night, getting darker with each stop the pair make. This book was a big hit with my young readers, and we've already read it a number of times. It definitely has a place in our library of favorites.                     

Seeking an Aurora by Elizabeth Pulford,
illustrated by Anne Bannock
Blue Dot Kids Press, 2021, 32 pages
This past winter, people posted such spectacular aurora photos, I decided to share some of them with my young readers and talk about what an aurora is. But first, I read them this beautiful story about a father who wakes up his young son in the middle of a winter night. They dress warmly and head outside, walking up a high hill and waiting. The boy, our narrator, doesn't know what an aurora is and has lots of questions for his dad: Is it scary? Are there stars in an aurora, is the moon in it? It's pitch dark at the top of the hill, and father and son sit down to wait, when suddenly his dad tells the boy to turn around. When he does, the boy is surprised by the beautiful 'wings of light' in the sky 'Dancing light, glowing and glimmering, shimmering and shining, colored ribbons swirling and twirling, lighting up the sky on the still, dark night." On their way home, the boy's father tells him everything he knows about aurora and that is exactly what the back matter consists of. The soft pastel illustrations really capture (as much as you can capture a natural phenomena) the colors and dance of an aurora. This book is a perfect introduction to auroras for young readers, many of whom, like mine, may never see a real aurora. You can download an helpful teacher's guide for grades 1-4 HERE. I found it helpful even though my kiddos are younger. 

The Night Walk
written and illustrated by Marie Dorléans
Floris Books, 2021, 32 pages
In the middle of the night, a brother and sister are awakened by their parents. After getting dressed, they leave the house, ready to have a nighttime adventure. They walk through town, where the only lights are the bright windows of the big hotel, before leaving town behind and heading into the countryside, passing sleeping cows in a meadow along the way. Leaving the road, they take a path heading into the forest, but not before they see and hear a passing nigh train. After a while, they come to an open area where they can see the brightly shining full moon. When they come to a clearing, the family stops for a rest, lying on their backs, stunned by the vast, glittering sky. Moving on, they climb up a rocky hill, hurrying so they won't be late. At the top, they are just in time to see sun rise "amazed by the light of a new day." There is something magical about watching a sun rise and a sun set, and this book quietly captures that magic moment at the end of a long, mysterious journey. This book provided another opportunity to talk to my young readers about a natural occurrence that we sometimes take for granted and to introduce them to the way the sun travels about the earth without overwhelming or confusing them with technicalities. Because it is nighttime, the hand drawn illustrations are done using graphite pencil and watercolor on a background on in varying shades of blue. 

Night Walk by Sara O'Leary,
illustrated by Ellie Arscott
Groundwood Books, 2020, 32 pages
One night, a young girl, our narrator, was supposed to be sleeping, but she was wide awake. When he noticed she wasn't sleeping, her dad suggested they go for a walk. They tiptoes past her sleeping baby brother, her older sister reading in bed, and her mom watching television with her eyes closed. Once outside, everything seemed new and different. With lights on, they could look into people's homes and see what they are doing. Out narrator could see that the sad looking lady isn't so sad after all, that a big family is having a meal too late for dinner, but too early for supper. And she is very surprised to find that there are some many people out and about, walking dogs, riding the bus, eating in restaurants at a time she should have been in bed and asleep. When her dad tells her that as a boy he lived in in the country with no close neighbors, our narrator thinks about how she has lived surrounded by people she knows and people she doesn't know, that where she lives is home and that that is where she belongs. I was afraid my young readers might have a negative reaction to this book because they haven't always lived here. But most of them have been out at night in our neighborhood and agreed with the narrator that everything looks and feels different at night. Interestingly, they seemed for find this story reassuring in some way, but could explain it. They did find the illustrations, which were done in watercolor and ink pen, to be very friendly (their word), but so did I. We live in NYC, but there are some private homes in the area as well as apartments over stores, so on some level, I think the illustrations felt somewhat familiar and "friendly." 

The Way Home in the Night
written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi
Kids Can Press, 2017, 32 pages
The first book in this roundup is about going home at night in the country. This book is about going home at the end of the day, too, but in the city. As a young bunny, our narrator, is carried through the quiet streets by her mother, she is aware of everything that is happening behind the lit windows of stores and neighboring homes. First, she notices a restaurant cook and bookseller closing up for the night. Then, she hears a phone ring in one home, smells a pie baking in another, a flickering light must mean someone is watching TV and next door are the sounds of a big party happening. Arriving home, her father tucks her into bed, and before falling asleep, she thinks about her way home: are the party guests leaving to go home? is the person who got the phone call getting ready for bed? is the restaurant cook home taking a bath and the bookseller home reading a book? Just before falling asleep, our narrator hears footsteps in the street and wonders if the lady they belong to is heading to the train station to take the last train home? Nights, she things, are always different but one thing is the same - we all go home to bed. This is a very quiet, gentle, contemplative story, allowing the young bunny to really use her imagination. The illustrations are done in pencil, charcoal, and acrylic gouache with touches of color throughout and giving the feeling dusk to oncoming night. The book is populated with a variety anthropomorphic animals, all engaged in ordinary human end-of-the-day type tasks. This is a great bedtime story, but I read it to my young readers to inspire them to talk about their walk home at the end of the day, and to encourage them to notice more of what is happening around them.

The Lions at Night
written and illustrated by Jessica M. Boehman
The Road Runner Press, 2019, 40 pages
I thought I would close our roundup of books about nighttime walks with a little humor. This is a wordless picture book about a nighttime adventure the two library lions, Patience and Fortitude, have. As it begins, the illustrations are in black and white, but color begins to creep in as the streets empty and the lions "wake up" and jump down from their perches. First the lions head for the subway, but the lady walking her dog doesn't notice them because she's busy looking at her phone, but her dog does. On the subway, grownups are busy reading, sleeping, listening to music, so it's only the kids who notice Patience and Fortitude. Pretty soon, the lions leave Manhattan behind and arrive at Coney Island, where eat, play games, winning a pink teddy bear, and ride the rides, especially the Cyclone. Then, it's off to the NY Aquarium, take a swm in the ocean and head to the subway station and home. There they are greeted by a elderly debonaire man who reads the two tired lions a bedtime story before they hop on there perches again and go to sleep. As which point the man returns to the library with the pink teddy bear, which he adds it to the collection of other colorful stuffed animals from other nighttime adventures of Patience and Fortitude. This proved to be the fun book I was hoping it would be. My young readers have all been to Coney Island on the subway, so that was a lot of fun for them. And they are familiar with Patience and Fortitude, since we have read Josh Funk's books about them, Lost in the Library and Where is Our Library? Be sure to read the About Our Lions at the back of the book for a history of the lions and how they got their names and who sc. And that debonaire librarian? He is Edward Clark Potter (1857-1923) who sculpted the models for the lions. And the author has hidden some Easter eggs throughout the book that refer to the lions' history. It might be fun to see if you can find them.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Juana & Lucas Muchos Changes written and illustrated by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Muchos Changes
written and illustrated by Juana Medina
Candlewick Press, 2021, 96 pages

I've read the previous two Juana & Lucas books, Juana & Lucas and Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas, a number of times to my young readers and they love the stories. So naturally, when I heard about Juana & Lucas: Muchos Changes, I knew it was time to revisit this favorite young South American girl and her faithful  dog. 

You may recall that Juana had a big surprise when her Mami told her that she and Luis were to be married. Juana wasn't very excited about it at first, but it has all worked out and now, she really likes living with him and Mami in there new apartment in Bogotá, Colombia. And now, Mami has another surprise for Juana - she and Luis are having a baby and Juana is going to be a big sister. Juana isn't very excited about the baby, but she is excited to be on her school break, weeks of reading, resting, exploring and playing with best furry friend Lucas, visiting her abuelos and her Tia Cris, maybe even some sleepovers. Or maybe not.

Mami and Luis have bought Juana a pair of skates and signed her up for skating camp and she is determined not to like it. But when Mami asks her to try skating camp at least five times, Juana agrees. At camp, she worries about not knowing anyone but after taking a bad spill, at break the other kids in the beginner group share their snacks with Juana and maybe, just maybe they will be her new amigos. 

But when Luis picks Juana up from camp instead of Mami, she learns that there is a complication in her mother's pregnancy and she must stay in bed until the baby is born. As her school break continues, Juana and her new amigos get better at skating and she gets to spend more time with her abuelos and Luis. Then one day, her abuelos pick her up and take Juana to the hospital, where her Mami has given birth to Juana's baby sister, born prematurely and in an incubator. Now, Juana has to wait patiently until baby María comes home and she can be a proper big sister. 

In fact, Juana's whole summer has been about learning to have patience. Patience learning to skate, patience becoming a hermana. And while there are lots of changes in Juana's life, she has lots of people who can help her adjust to them. Not only are Mami and Luis there for her, her abuelos are always willing to offer their support and guidance, and her new friends are willing to share their experiences of a new baby in the house, and Lucas is always there to lend a ear when Juana needs to talk about things. It's really nice seeing this supportive network of people who care about Juana and want to help her. I think that is one of the things my young readers have always like about the Juana & Lucas stories, plus so many of them have gone or are going through similar changes. Along those lines, I really like that Luis is such a great stepfather. So often, stepparents are stereotypically portrayed rejecting their new spouse's children.

As with all the Juana & Lucas books, there are the same lively, colorful cartoon-like watercolor illustrations and Spanish words sprinkled throughout. And there are more detailed digressions of important things in Juana's world. 

Juana is the same wonderfully appealing character she as in the earlier books. Consistency is important to young readers and it's disconcerting to them when a character changes too much from one book to the next, but my young readers still think that Juana and these books are "just about perfect." And so do I.

Thank you to Candlewick Press and Edelweiss+ for providing me with a digital copy of this book for review. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

It's weird to read a book that feels so much like historical fiction and yet the events take place in 1989, one year after my Kiddo was born, and I clearly remember what happened to communism all over Eastern Europe that year. This novel takes place in Romania, which had been governed under the repressive communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife since 1965 and the Romanian people were controlled by the secret police called Securitate through the use of mass surveillance, which included turning ordinary citizens into informers, usually through blackmail. 

And that is just what happens to Cristian Florescu, a 17-year-old student who dreams of becoming a writer and who secretly enjoys poetry and philosophy and buys English language stuff on the sly. Then one October school day in 1989, Cristian is pulled out of class by a member of the Securitate, or Secu, who informs him that they know what he has done. Cristian is an avid stamp collector and his crime was having given a Romanian stamp to American teen, Dan Van Dorn, the son of American diplomat Nick Van Dorn stationed in Romania. But later, when he looked through his stamp book, Cristian had discovered an American dollar inside it, which was illegal to possess and the Secu tells him he is now guilty of illegal trafficking. Unless...he agrees to collect information on the Van Dorn family where his mother works cleaning their apartment. In exchange for information, Cristian's grandfather, his Bunu, a rebel in his own right, would receive needed medicine for his leukemia.

And because the Secu blackmailed people into becoming informers, Cristian had learned not to trust anyone, certainly not his best friend Luca, whom he is sure was the one who informed on him about the American dollar, or even Liliana, the girl he is attracted to. But Cristian decides that he will not be the kind of informer the Secu wants, thinking he can undermine the Secu. 

Meanwhile, Cristian learns about the fall of Communist regimes are happening all over Europe - Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia - secretly listening to Radio Free Europe on his family's forbidden radio. Why, he wonders, can't that happen in Romania? Perhaps if the world knew what was happening in there, things would be different. And Cristian has just the plan to hopefully make that happen.  

Ruta Sepetys has always been an author whose work I looked forward to reading and yet, I was reluctant to read I Must Betray You. Perhaps it was because of current events happening in the world right now, but once I began reading, I couldn't put the book down. Right from the beginning, Cristian is a compelling character, caring, sensitive and intelligent, curious about the world outside of Romania and, like the grandfather he looks up to, as much of a rebel as you can be under a harsh communist regime. And for that reason, I, of course, wanted to find out what happens once he becomes a reluctant informer for the Securitate. 

Sepetys has also drawn a picture of Romania under Ceaușescu's dictatorship that is as chilling as it is scary. Neighbors and friends informing on neighbors and friends, getting up early to stand in long lines to buy meager amounts of food, acquiring and keeping constant count of Kent cigarettes to use for bartering and bribing, never knowing what is being documented that can be used to manipulate or arrest you. Even the bottle of Coke or the Twinkie that Cristian and Liliana secretly share is documented - but how? Who saw it? Who reported it? But the Secu knows, just like they know about the American dollar Cristian finds. 

As with all of her novels, Sepetys has really done her research. She has managed to convey the hardships, the fear, the constant hunger, and lack of trust in the lives of the Romanian people at that time so well that I had to keep reminding myself that this is a story based on reality and not a dystopian novel, because that is almost what Ceaușescu's Romania felt like. 

Be sure to check the back matter. There is a variety of interesting and informative photographs, an Author's Note that shouldn't be missed, information on Sepetys' Research and Sources, plus an extensive list of sources. And for those who are sharing this book with their class or book club, you can find a Discussion Guide HERE 

This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

King Sejong Invents an Alphabet by Carol Kim, illustrated by Cindy Kang


King Sejong Invents an Alphabet by Carol Kim,
illustrated by Cindy Kang
Albert Whitman & Company, 2021, 32 pages
This is the story of a king who loved books and reading so much he wanted to share that love with all the people in his kingdom. But how could he do that when Korean had no alphabet?  Born in Gyeongbakgung Palace in 1397, as a boy, Yi Do loved to read. And he was lucky, because only those who were a members of the royal court could learn how to read, because that required knowing how to read and write Hanja, the complex Chinese characters that were used in Korea because there was no Korean alphabet. Unfortunately, that meant that most people in Korea could not read since learning Hanja required time and money.
Even after his father hide his books, young Yi Do was overjoyed to find one book that had been missed. He loved books and learning so much that he read the missed book over and over. Years later, his father realized how valuable his son's love of learning was, believing it  would make him a good leader and chose him to be the next king at age 21, changing his name to Sejong. After an unfortunate incident between a father and son,  Sejong had a book printed and given out all over the country in an effort to teach the people to honor their parents. But no one could read the book because no one knew how to read Hanja. 
Dismayed, Sejong realized that what Korean needed was its own alphabet instead of the complex Hanja characters. But how does one invent an alphabet that would match the spoken Korean language and be easy to learn? And how to do it secretly since the yangban or ruling class didn't want to give any power to the people or sangmin class.
Sejong spent many years working in secret on a Korean alphabet and finally in 1443, he released an alphabet of twenty-eight letters, which was later called Hangeul or "the great script." And yes, the yangban did protest the use of the alphabet, but now that they could read, imagine how much the lives of the Korean people were improved. All thanks to one young boy's love of books, reading, and learning and wanting to share that.

King Sejong Invents an Alphabet is a deceptively simple yet very informative biography of both King Sejong and the Hangeul alphabet. Coupled with Carol Kim's engaging text works in harmony with Cindy Kang's colorfully detailed illustrations that reflect Korean life in the 15th century. 

Back matter includes more information about the Hangeul alphabet and why it is an ingenious design, its fate after King Sejong died and the long journey to its acceptance, as well as Selected Sources and Source Notes.

This is an excellent book to include in diverse libraries, whether public, school or home libraries. 

Thank you, Edelweiss+ for providing me with a digital ARC of this book.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Once Upon a Forest written and illustrated by Pam Fong

Once Upon a Forest
written and illustrated by Pam Fong
Random House Studio, 2022, 40 pages
Forest fires are really scary and they seem to be happening with more and more frequency. Here is a wordless picture book that shows readers something they can do after a forest fire happens. It all begins when a little marmot, out watering his garden with his bird bestie, smells smoke in the distance. Leaving his home, the marmot goes exploring to find out where the smoke is coming from and discovers it is a forest fire.
After the fire is put out, the marmot loads up his wagon with gardening tools, and some of his own young saplings and heads into the forest with his bird friend. Saddened by the charred remains of trees and devastation he finds, the marmot quickly gets to work pulling the dead trees up, 
then clearing and raking the land to prepare it for new plants. As you can see, it doesn't take long for the soot from the fire to get all over the marmot. Pulling, raking and digging are hard work, but the two manage to finally plant some saplings, then pitch a tent to keep an eye out on things..  
They are there for the long haul and it's a good thing they are. As the saplings begin to take root and grow, they need water, protection from autumn wind, and later from winter's snow, and in spring, from hungry animals looking for some nice leafy greens.

But the trees grow and grown. Once they are strong and sturdy, the marmot and his bird friend return to their home, but just they are unpacking, it happens again - the smell of smoke is once more in the air. It looks like the help of our little environmental friends will once again be needed.

This is a charming story that shows young readers that they can do something to help an environment that has been laid waste through forest fires or any natural disasters. They can easily begin by planting a new tree at home in a small container for later replanting in a forest. But more than that, kids learn that they can participate in taking care of the nature world which is so important for it to thrive, especially if we want to enjoy it for years to come.  

Pam Fong has managed to convey all of that to us without writing a word, and instead by using detailed, grayscale illustrations that reflect the marmots thoughts and feelings, and by using a few color exceptions where they make all the difference, highlighting the green of the saplings, the blue of the stream where water for the plants is gotten and the marmot can wash away the soot that gets on his fur, and a golden cast as the day's work is done and the sun is setting. 

This is a perfect book to add to your Earth Day collection, and it is ideal for sharing as we enter another fire season with the coming summer months. There is much here for discussion and for generating ideas for caring for the earth.

Thanks you Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for providing me with a copy of this book.

Imagination Designs