Kids learn a lot from books. And even the youngest child can learn about the messages that wonderful picture books contain, hidden in the bright illustrations and the often-simple text. Here are three picture books that do just that — they share important messages for young readers about not giving up, the power of positive thinking, and the importance of friendship.
“Things You Save in a Fire” by Katherine Center isn’t literally about things you would save in a fire. The main character, firefighter Cassie Hanwell, was born to be a firefighter. She’s a fascinating and complex character. When there’s an emergency, she gets calm and knows exactly what to do. She’s the one you want to be with when danger threatens. But in her own life, she’s helpless to get things on track.
“Señorita Mariposa” by Ben Gundersheimer and illustrated by Marcos Almada Rivero is a beautiful, happy, rhyming picture book that tells the story of the monarch butterfly’s long journey from faraway places to Mexico where the monarchs gather each winter. Children get an idea of how long the journey is through the text and illustrations. “Over mountains capped with snow, to the deserts down below,” and elsewhere, the monarchs travel long distances on their journey.
Greed and arrogance are qualities that permeate the personalities of the characters in Megan Goldin’s “The Escape Room.” The first chapter offers the reader clues that the story will not end well for some of those characters, but just how that comes about is part of the mystery and the thrill. Four hedge fund traders at the competitive firm of Stanhope and Sons are commanded to appear for a team-building exercise. Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam all have better things to be doing, but they are all extremely competitive, and they all want to get the best bonus possible, so they all show up to the not-quite-completed office building and enter the elevator.
Ginny Richardson and her successful lawyer husband have one perfect child, Peyton. When Lucy, her second baby, is born with Down syndrome, her wealthy in-laws whisk the newborn to a “school” where she will live and be cared for. Ginny is told she was “enrolled” in the school, and by the time she was coherent after sedative injection after sedative injection, it was too late. Everyone except Ginny’s mother and best friend are told the baby died.
Sometimes it’s difficult for young children to talk about their feelings. Sometimes, reading a book about feelings can open the door for children to express that they feel the same way. Sometimes, by reading a book, children might realize that they are not alone in their feelings. This collection of new releases is perfect for those who want to help children deal with uncomfortable feelings.
The new school year is just around the corner, and there are lots of wonderful nonfiction picture books perfect for a wide range of students from preschool through middle school. Picture books are a great tool for teachers (and parents) to use to start a discussion about anything from history to kindness to math. Yes, even math. Continue reading
It’s that time of year. Kids and parents are doing back-to-school shopping and one thing that should definitely be on the list are books to get kids in that back-to-school mood. There are many picture books that are perfect for just that purpose, and they will motivate and excite readers to begin learning and imagining and creating.
A book that legions have been anxiously awaiting (at least my 1st grade students who begged me to bring it to school and read it to them) is the ever-popular pigeon in “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!” by the prolific and popular Mo Willems. Pigeon isn’t convinced that he wants to go to school, but by the end of the book, he’s all in. Kids will enjoy hearing about how Pigeon’s argument about not going to school backfires. The end papers are worthy of note, as usual, with empty school desks and chairs at the start of the book while on the end papers, they are populated with pigeon’s new classmates. Kids will definitely want to read this one over and over and over again. And it’s perfect for kids who aren’t quite sure they are ready for school, or who might be — dare I say it — scared to go. They will certainly understand Pigeon’s feelings. Definitely put this title on your back-to-school shopping list! (Hyperion Books for Children)
As someone who went through law school and gave criminal law a thought, my feelings after reading “The Two Lila Bennetts” is that authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke got it all right. I’ll never forget working for a criminal law firm while going to law school at night. A lawyer once said to me, “When you practice criminal law, you become as bad as the criminals.”
And that’s the premise of “The Two Lila Bennetts.” The protagonist, Lila Bennett, is a top criminal defense lawyer. Are some of her clients guilty? Assuredly. Does she get them off anyway? Absolutely. At least most of them.
In fact, we come to realize that Lila herself is no angel. Boy, has she made some bad choices in her life. Lying, cheating, sleeping with someone to get an advantage. We are talking really poor choices. And now Lila is paying for those poor choices.
Someone is after Lila. And when the story diverges into two paths, both Lilas suffer, although in different ways. The writing is extremely clever, and we are led down a path where we believe one Lila is going to be fine and the other, maybe not. But the Lilas in both stories are equally brilliant and determined to right past wrongs. Does Lila become a new person? Can we really change who we are? What does it take to cause that change?
Another interesting aspect of the novel is that we don’t really like Lila much at the beginning. She’s simply not a very likable person. But as we see her struggle and the thoughtful process of Lila’s rethinking her life and her decisions, including her marriage, we come to respect her and root for her.
Looking for a lovely summer read? Trying to pick a book that will engender great discussion for a book club? Picking a gift for a friend who loves to read? “The Two Lila Bennetts” won’t disappoint! It’s sure to be a hit with everyone.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Lake Union Publishing, the publisher, for review purposes.
“Under Currents” is author Nora Roberts at her best. The list of books by this prolific author fills four pages before the start of the novel, and The New Yorker called her “America’s most popular novelist.” In this story, Roberts attacks an important issue that is too often swept under the rug — abuse. Children, women, and men suffer from abuse by family or partners or even casual boyfriends or girlfriends. “Under Currents” begins by introducing what appears to be a perfect family. However, as the reader quickly learns, all is not as the neighbors and townspeople and even close relatives believe.
David Lubar, beloved author of “The Weenie” series of short stories and “Hidden Talents,” hits it out of the park, actually out of the world and out of the galaxy, with “Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens.”
Nicholas V. Andrew, a seventh grader, only wants to be on his own when his parents are out of the country performing with their band, the Beegles, a take-off of the Beetles wherein his parents wear beagle masks while performing songs like “Yellow Snow Submarine.” He doesn’t want to have wild parties or play video games day and night, he just wants to be on his own. He ends up traveling throughout the universes, unintentionally causing the destruction of entire planets and also unintentionally becoming the Emperor of the Universe.