January 20th, 2020 · Books

LISTEN by Holly M. McGhee is a gentle, sweet book that leads readers towards empathy by reminding us all to slowly take in our surroundings and revel in our connectedness. Aimed at ages 4-7, it will work for slightly younger and much older children and adults as a tool for meditation and calm.

The repetitive structure and relaxed pace serve the picture book’s purpose in encouraging living in the moment and listening to our hearts – and observing with all our senses. The lovely illustrations by Pascal Lemaitre are at once detailed and simple; they suit the story perfectly.

Messages centered on connecting to the world around us, allowing nature to inspire and comfort, and hoping that a new generation will learn empathy for others and themselves intertwine throughout LISTEN. This is a wonderful read aloud (and read alone) book for the open-hearted of all ages.

Review by Kristin Wald



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If Elephants Disappeared

December 18th, 2019 · Books

IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED by Lily Williams is the third in the “If…Disappeared” books, and its precise but simple approach to explaining the vital influence one species can have is both effective and heartbreakingly beautiful. Readers follow two children who act as guides through the Congo Basin Forest and who react to the information about Elephants as a keystone species.

The author uses kid-friendly imagery to convey the lifestyle and importance of elephants to their ecosystem. With expressive and detailed illustrations in rich, deep color, we see elephants walk through forests, and through paneled pages we see the effect of elephants disappearing on the density of the forest. The text, set in short paragraphs on each page informs readers about the evolution and current influence elephants have. While Williams tackles complex ideas like a “keystone species” and “trophic cascade,” the language is direct and accessible, especially combined with the images.

Young readers will get a kick out of the importance of elephants spreading their poop for miles; one of the characters is shown stepping in elephant poop as her brother laughs. Williams takes that jovial moment to explain, in words and pictures, how seeds grow faster in dung than in the ground. To demonstrate the numbers of elephants disappearing, a startling graphic showing the loss of 62% of African forest elephants since 2001 includes 100 images with 62 of them empty shadows. This is appropriate for the intended age group, and stark enough for impact. A mention of poachers killing elephants for their tusks is made, but no imagery accompanies that. Again, Williams is able to present facts with impact but keep it appropriate for the intended audience.

The book includes a glossary, statistics about elephants and their impact world-wide, and a section for how young readers can make informed and positive choices and help spread the word about elephants. There are also additional resources for families and classes to continue their learning. If Elephants Disappeared is both an informative call to action and an enjoyable book to read. Highly recommended.

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Between Us and Abuela

December 14th, 2019 · Books

BETWEEN US AND ABUELA by Mitali Perkins depicts the hardship of distance between family members set against the backdrop of the annual Christmastime tradition of La Posada Sin Fronteras. During this time, family members in the USA and Mexico can visit for 30 minutes, albeit separated by high fencing. Told with a hopeful air of anticipation, this picture book provides both an introduction to the issues surrounding distant families and the belief that humanity can prevail.

María and Juan haven’t seen their Abuela in five years, and they are preparing homemade gifts to give her when they arrive at the border for La Posada Sin Fronteras. María’s knitted scarf will keep Abuela warm on the hard ride back home, and Juan’s cardboard image of Mary and Joseph with “Inns. No rume.” written on it. After a bus ride and a long  walk on the beach, they arrive at the entrance to wait their turn. María soon realizes that Juan’s gift won’t fit between the holes in the fence, and she hopes her brother will forget about it in his excitement to see Abuela.

The reunion is a happy jumble of kisses on fingers, hurried exchange of family news, singing of Christmas songs, and finally a hurried attempt to push the scarf through the fence…but the border officer stops them. “We’ll send it by mail, María,” the mother assures her.  Juan’s gift, more difficult to mail, presents a more upsetting problem. As Juan howls and María glares at the fences, an idea of how to get her younger brother’s gift to her Abuela.

The illustrations reflect the joyful story with clear expressions and just the right amount of detail for young children to imagine the border fence, the emotions, and the childlike perseverance of the characters. Sara Palacios creates a picturesque world that threads today’s reality and a more hopeful future together for us all to imagine.

Between Us and Abuela offers children a story that includes perseverance, hope, and some semblance of feeling in control of the circumstances surrounding them. And while the story leans towards idealized and fanciful in many ways (the border agents are more patient and lenient than you’d expect), that is what children need in the face of current events and anxiety-filled lives. Highly recommended for ages 3-6 and beyond.


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The Great Big Hug

November 25th, 2019 · Books

The topic of consent comes up with young children and adults alike. Sometimes parents and educators have a hard time helping preschoolers understand how to both understand what is important for others, and how to communicate what is important for themselves. A new book helps with these sometimes difficult discussions! THE GREAT BIG HUG by Isy Abraham-Raveson is a simple and sweet story about two friends who learn that communication is key to a healthy relationship. Elephant is confused when Meerkat says OUCH! when Elephant hugs him. He wonders if he is too big to be friends with Meerkat and runs away.  As he travels and meets lots of animal friends who have different reactions to Elephants tickles and hugs, Elephant realizes that everyone likes different kinds of games, and that’s okay.

The Great Big Hug’s style may seem overly direct and simple to adults, but the message is a good introduction (and frankly, a needed reminder) about consent and communication from which all ages could benefit. Elephant’s hurt feelings and slow realization is an example of how someone can “do better” when they have learned how they affect others.

Each of the animals with whom Elephant interacts has a different type of reaction to hugs and tickle games. Elephant’s responses, a combination of self-pity and self-blame, are both realistic and sympathetic. The illustrations are expressive despite their lack of detail, and the watercolor/collage-style look that Todd Hall employs works well with the text.

THE GREAT BIG HUG would work well as a read-aloud in classrooms and for families to read together when discussing bodily autonomy and respecting others’ boundaries. Highly recommended.



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