I always have a stack of books at my bedside – a wild assortment of fiction and nonfiction, with a handful of kids’ books thrown in the mix. The current collection stars two picture books, a middle grade and a young adult novel, and a work of children’s nonfiction. They all captured my attention and praise, and I want to share them with you. Read one with your preschooler, or pass one off to your teen, or maybe even tuck one onto your bedside table (It’s okay, I won’t tell.)…
Fog Island, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, is a masterpiece of emotion and illustration. Set in a simpler time on the rocky shoreline of Ireland, siblings Finn and Cara are given a small curragh made of reeds and canvas. Their father warns them to stay away from Fog Island, “a doomed and evil place,” from where no one has ever returned. Exploring the shore one day, the children are caught in a fog and pulled out by strong currents. Unafraid, they wash up on Fog Island, where they meet the strange, but friendly, Fog Man. He shows the children how he makes fog from the earth’s magma, entertains them with stories and songs, feeds them and tucks them into bed. The children wake amid ruins, but for a quilt and steaming bowls of stew. They make their way back home through a dangerous storm, and tell their tale to the villagers, but no one believes them. Moody illustrations convey the craggy, foggy landscape and the changing skies and currents with incredible depth of feeling, while authentic details of Irish life imbue the story with richness and meaning. The double-page spread of the children in the fog, and the perspective of peering into the well of magma are especially striking. A book to fall into again and again.
Fog Island written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, published by Phaidon Press, 2013. – ISBN: 978-0-7148-6535-5
The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen, tells the story of a young boy named Laszlo, who lives in a large, creaky house with lots of windows. The dark lives there too, hiding behind shower curtains and against the windows, and filling the basement. Everyday Laszlo visits the dark at the top of the basement steps, in hopes the dark will never visit him in his bedroom. But one night, the dark does visit him, and leads Laszlo through the house and down into the farthest corner of the basement to find light. And though Laszlo sees the dark behind his eyes when he goes to sleep, Laszlo is never afraid of the dark again. The text and pictures work beautifully together. The play of light and dark winds its way throughout the story, even in the way the words move across the page. The matte finish, color tones, angles, and the cartoony image of Laszlo give the illustrations a vintage feel, and the stark openness of the rooms heightens the experience of being in a large, creaky house. While Laszlo’s emotional relationship with the dark unfurls through the words, the pictures show another dimension of the story – one young children will relate to.
The Dark written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Little, Brown, & Co., 2013. – ISBN: 978-0-316-18748-0
A TANGLE OF KNOTS
A Tangle of Knots, written by Lisa Graff, is a whimsical middle grade read. In a society where a person’s Talents guide their destiny, 11-year old Cady’s special talent is baking cakes. Somehow she knows the perfect cake for each person she meets, and can mix the exact ingredients and judge the precise baking time needed for each one. When she is adopted by a lonely man with a secret past, and moves into an apartment above the Lost Luggage Emporium, her special talent leads her down a surprising road of personal history. Told in short, action-packed chapters, from the point-of-view of nine different characters who all hold a key to Cady’s past. Readers will enjoy piecing together the puzzle of Cady’s story and may want to have their own kitchen adventures, by following one of the nine cake recipes folded into the book.
A Tangle of Knots written by Lisa Graff, published by Philomel Books, 2013. – ISBN: 978-0-399-25517-5
OUT OF THE EASY
Out of The Easy, written by Ruta Sepetys, is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during 1950. 17-year old Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute, dreams of attending Smith College despite the seedy underworld in which she lives. Haunted by a loveless mother and her dangerous boyfriend, Josie finds support in a cast of unlikely helpmeets, Willie Woodley, the Madame of the house, and her loyal chauffeur, Cokie. The first person narrative pulled me right in, and the unusual storyline and interesting characters kept me there. Unexpected twists and turns propel the story forward and show Josie’s steely determination to rise above her circumstances. A little romance softens the stark realities of her life, and the rich descriptions of the French Quarter paint a detailed picture of the time. A fascinating read.
Out of The Easy written by Ruta Sepetys, published by Philomel Books, 2013. – ISBN: 978-0-399-25692-9
COURAGE HAS NOT COLOR
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone was seven years in the making and is the only book to assemble together all of the events and the complete story of our nation’s first Black paratroopers into an historical context. Heavily researched and illustrated with 103 hand-picked archival photographs, the book opens with a heartfelt forward by award-winning writer and illustrator, Ashley Bryan. Bryan himself was drafted into the Army during WWII, and survived with a sketch pad in his gas mask. A few of his emotionally wrought drawings grace the book. By bringing to light the history of the Triple Nickles, Stone reveals a missing piece of our nation’s history and examines the role of African Americans in the military. With deftness, heart, and precision, she shows how these courageous soldiers transcended race to fight Hitler’s reign of terror, even though racial intolerance and injustice was rampant in their own country. A powerful work and important reading for Americans of any age.
Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone, Published by Candlewick Press, 2013. – ISBN: 978-0-7636-5117-6
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.