By TAMMY MATHES
A Spy Called James skillfully depicts a slave’s espionage during the American Revolution. French General Lafayette commissioned the man, simply known as James, due to the assumption that no one would suspect a slave’s allegiance to the colonies. Well-regarded local author Anne Rockwell retells this fascinating and educational true story. She also speaks of the incredible heroism and bravery that our forefathers demonstrated.
Lindsay Mattick’s Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear describes Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn’s relationship with an orphaned bear during WWI. A veterinarian by trade, Colebourn names “Winnie” after his hometown of Winnipeg, and through a series of events, the bear eventually becomes known to Christopher Robin Milne, son of renowned children’s author A. A. Milne. As one can guess, the famed children’s series about Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by this friendship. Written by Colebourn’s granddaughter and creatively told as a bedtime story to her son, Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear has earned many accolades, including the Caldecott Medal for its glorious illustrations.
Celebrated author and illustrator Ed Young describes the depths of greed through a wealthy selfish cat in his picture book The Cat From Hunger Mountain. Lord Cat demands the tallest pagoda, the finest clothing spun from silk and gold, and the tastiest meats. Eventually, his haughtiness dissipates, as he endures many difficulties and lessons in humility. Young’s paper collage illustrations are spectacular and won the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016 award during the month of its release.
Oliver Jeffers’s playful picture book A Child of Books uniquely describes the power of reading. Imaginative illustrations and simple lines intermingle with texts from fairy tales and other stories, and this creates a dramatic visual effect. For example, jutting branches on trees are actually words from Hansel and Gretel and an enormous wave is created with lines from Pinocchio and Swiss Family Robinson. Jeffers’s phrasing is soothing as well and makes A Child of Books a lovely bedtime read.
A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 recounts the inaugural journey across the English Channel by a gas balloon. While children will learn scientific and historical facts from this terrific picture book, they will also read how two dissimilar men found a means to work together and survive this dangerous excursion. With remarkable watercolor illustrations as well as cartoon strips within the text, Matthew Olshan’s A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 incorporates terrific language and vocabulary, as well.
With lucid lines and dazzling illustrations, They All Saw a Cat is a terrific vehicle to teach and discuss the abstract concept of perspective. Throughout Brendan Wenzel’s story, young children will observe a cat’s various interactions with other animals. While a boy pets the feline, a mouse views the creature as a predator. The story incorporates a little science as well, such as a bat “seeing” through echolocation. They All Saw a Cat received the Caldecott Award in January, the same month it was released.
A quick shoulder SHAKE,
a slick eye FAKE –
Number 28 is way past late.
He’s reading me like a
but I turn the page
and watch him look,
which can only mean I got him
Written in verse, Kwame Alexander’s award-winning The Crossover shares twelve-year-old Josh Bell’s passion for basketball as well as his sometimes complicated relationships with his dad and twin brother, Jordan. While the title reflects changing direction when dribbling a ball, the term is also a metaphor woven throughout this beautiful story. Alexander’s characters are full of depth – from the coach who encourages meditation, to Josh’s love for words, to his mother’s complex role as both parent and principal to her boys. The Crossover is a relatively quick read as a chapter book and should not be missed.
Born with a club foot and ostracized by his family and tribe, Kai’s only friend is Uff, an orphaned wolf cub. When men threaten to kill Uff, the boy surreptitiously flees with him, and a harrowing journey of survival ensues. Set in Paleolithic times, Susan Williams Beckhorn’s The Wolf’s Boy is an outstanding novel and will appeal to animal, nature, and history lovers.
2017 Newbery Medal winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon begins in the sad and gloomy town of Protectorate. Each year, the evil Council of Elders leaves a baby in the woods to appease a supposedly malevolent witch, Xan, who actually represents pure goodness. The tale follows one of the many children that Xan rescues, but instead of bringing her to Free Cities where each child is placed in a loving, happy home, the sorceress keeps this baby for her own. When the girl is accidentally fed moon dust and she herself is filled with magic, Xan must delve into her wise maternal instincts into order to protect the child, soon named Luna, and others. With well-developed characters that include this 500-year-old witch, a poetic monster, a pocket-sized dragon who believes he is much larger than he is, and baby Luna, author Kelly Barnhill weaves interconnected story lines and themes into a fantastic plot. The novel bursts with advanced lyrical language, which makes it a terrific read aloud, as well.
Tammy Mathes | Banyan Tree Education | www.banyantreeeducation.com | 203-249-7008