One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey

April 6th, 2020 · Books

A modern environmental folktale with a very down-to-earth message, ONE LITTLE BAG by Henry Cole conveys a heartfelt story wordlessly. The detailed black and white drawings are highlighted with brown and red splashes of color focused on the titular bag and the hearts drawn on it. The 4-8 year old target audience will be able to “tell” their own stories based on the pictures, and older readers will delve deeper into the environmental and family messages within.

The story begins even before the title page with pictures that detail the journey from forest trees to paper mill to store bag. Then, a plain paper bag from a grocery store becomes a lunch bag, complete with a drawn heart, then a comfort item, then a snack bag for camping, and on and on as it follows a little boy from childhood through adulthood. While the story demands a certain suspension of disbelief that a paper bag could survive years of use, the message of “reuse” and recognizing the connection between our everyday items and nature’s circle of life.

Each page in ONE LITTLE BAG feels personal and almost tender. The difficult event of losing a grandparent is opaque enough to be adjusted for the youngest audience but will provide an important framework for family’s to discuss life’s milestones. The author’s note that follows the wordless story also provides a personal connection to the events in the story. The lovely book is incredibly powerful in its structure and imagery.

Highly recommended.

 

review by Kristin Wald

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Aliens Among Us: Extraordinary Portraits of Ordinary Bugs

March 9th, 2020 · Books

ALIENS AMONG US by Daniel Kariko is a must-have for any child (or adult!) who is fascinated with or horrified by bugs. Its juxtaposition of basic bug information including a black and white sketch and an up-close and detailed color photograph creates a thrilling effect. Or maybe chilling! These bugs are delightfully creepy in their microscopic close-ups.

The vocabulary is not simplified for young children, but the descriptions are concise and clear enough that interested readers are able to pick up meanings for “exoskeleton,” “formidable,” and “resonance chamber.” In fact, most of the text, written by Tim Christensen, is very accessible despite the technical names and examples of “anticoagulants” being spit into wounds. Seriously, bug-loving kids are going to love this book!

The contents are divided into bug-types like Flightless Arthropods, Diptera, and Hymenoptera. (That’s bugs like silverfish, flies, and wasps to we lay-people.) Each section includes a brief description and then launches into the superstars of the book — the bugs themselves. The black and white illustration of each bug, by Isaac Talley, provides context for the portrait-like, color image facing it. These images are even more impressive once the end-section “Notes on Process” has been read.

Families that focus on compassionate treatment of all animals, including bugs, should know that the subjects in ALIENS AMONG US have been gathered and frozen in order to be photographed. This could create an opportunity for family conversation about the subject as a whole and the understanding and knowledge versus the sacrifice that went into making the book.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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White Bird: A Wonder Story

March 6th, 2020 · Books

Children’s and middle grade literature often provides nuance and backstory to “villains.” R.J. Palacio’s WONDER follow up, “The Julian Chapter,” was no exception as it provided reasons if not excuses for Julian’s treatment of Auggie. R.J. Palacio’s WHITE BIRD: A WONDER STORY continues the story that was hinted at in “The Julian Chapter” via Julian’s Grandmère, who lives in France. Through simple illustrations and language that straddles teenage and adult, readers watch as Julien, a bullied boy, is insulted for his father’s work and his physical abilities due to polio. While there is violence in words and actions depicted, and direct references to the horrors of The Holocaust, this graphic novel is accessible and appropriate for the intended age of 10+, especially as a book to read as a family.

Mirroring the theme of self-reflection in WONDER, WHITE BIRD depicts Sara, Julian’s Grandmère, as a typical girl who goes along with teasing and bullying of Julien and regrets it. Over the course of the graphic novel, she learns to become better even as a deeply violent and genocidal version of her actions affects her own life and community in profound ways.

Sara describes changes in her community as Nazis begin their occupation. She and her family, who live in the “free zone” only experience minor freedom-restricting annoyances at first. However, via letters from her aunt who lives in the occupied zone, Sara learns how bigotry and resentments can quickly grow into actions as lists of Jewish people are kept and anti-Jewish laws are passed by the Vichy government. Anti-Jewish propaganda via posters, radio programs, and movies scapegoated and stereotyped Jews and soon yellow stars were required to be worn for easy identification. The last they heard was about the mass arrests and deportations to concentration camps that occurred in 1942.

The bigotry invades Sara’s haven, her school, when she is targeted for being Jewish, and this awakens her more directly to the propaganda and restrictions in her own town. Her parents argue about whether to leave France or stay, and while they decide to stay, they try to prepare Sara for quick escape. Danger arrives in the form of a round-up of Jewish children at Sara’s school. But despite creative efforts and sacrifice, they cannot save the Jewish children from the Nazi officers. Sara hides in the bell tower, where Julien, a bullied boy to whom Sara has also been gruff, finds her and sneaks her home. His kindness and bravery in hiding her, despite great hardship and cruel treatment by his peers, helps Sara maintain hopefulness despite losing her family and way of life.

The story takes a personal dark turn when Julien’s fate continues the trajectory begun with the bullying in school. His parents continue to care for Sara, despite their pain and sacrifices. And the story allows for light to break through the tragedy, at least in some significant ways.

Palacio’s belief in the power of good people to work to correct wrongs is reiterated throughout the novel. Julien’s mother, who hides and feeds and comforts Sara for over a year, tells the pastor of Julien and Sara’s school: “It’s not up to God to make it end, Pastor. Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it. It is our fight, not God’s.” And while sharing her story with her grandson, Sara says, “It always takes courage to be kind. But in those days, when kindness could cost you everything…[it] becomes a miracle.”

The Epilogue pleads with readers, via Julian, to work to make #NeverAgain a reality. We see Sara as Grandmère reading about refugees and asylum seekers being mistreated and rounded up, families separated, “even” in the USA — hearkening back to Sara’s aunt’s story in 1940’s France. And her words to Julian, to all of us, “If you see injustice, you will fight it. You will speak out. Promise me, Julian,” are fulfilled with the final image in the graphic novel.

Palacio’s ability to tell the story simply and with relatable language that doesn’t condescend to her readers if effective and moving. The imagery is powerful in its clarity, both with what it shows and what it chooses to leave to readers’ imaginations. The use of Sara’s first-person narration, and that she admits to flaws and weakness, helps readers identify the same in themselves. This allows us to forgive ourselves and each other and to move forward.

Highly recommended.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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The Truth About Hawks

January 22nd, 2020 · Books

THE TRUTH ABOUT HAWKS by Maxwell Eaton III starts with a surprise, and it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to how hawks get their meals, as the rabbit who begins the book learns. But the surprise to most readers will be that eagles are actually hawks. Joining them are kites, harriers, and over 200 other types of birds.

Readers are presented with features shared by hawks, hunting patterns, and meal preferences. Did you know that golden eagles can knock sheep off cliffs in order to kill and eat them? Or that apple snails are the favorite of some kites? Gourmands of the sky!

Mating, nest-building, and chick-rearing are all included, as are migration habits, and the effects of loss of habitat and human-created pollution and use of pesticides. Throughout the book, Eaton infuses his usual humor and dry wit. The illustrations are clear and fun in a cartoon-style that doesn’t gloss over the animal kingdom realities, but keeps topics child-friendly.

As with most animal-centered books, there is a list of books for further research for those children who fall in love with all things hawks. THE TRUTH ABOUT HAWKS is a fun and informative book for ages 4-8.

 

Review by Kristin Wald

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