This holiday season, or any time of the year, it’s wonderful to find picture books that share uplifting messages for young readers. Many picture books, fiction and nonfiction, allow young readers to think about issues such as fairness, inclusion, and just that it’s okay to be different. Here are some really thoughtful books that will open children’s horizons in wonderful ways.
If there is one book that lovers of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” would love to own, it’s this book: “Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.” This weighty (literally, maybe five pounds) book is filled with photographs, information, architectural drawings, and quotes about the entire process in creating the Tolkien world.
I’m not only the crazy cat and dog lady. I have now officially become the crazy mouse lady as well.
I sit here at breakfast, worrying about whether or not I should feed the mouse waiting in my garage to be released after being humanely trapped. I worry that after I release him, he’ll be hungry and not able to find food quickly enough to survive. Continue reading
While the name “Malala” is quite familiar to adults, children may not know who the author of this picture book is. In “Malala’s Magic Pencil,” Malala Yousafzai tells her story, and it’s one that opens the eyes of the kids hearing her tale.
She starts her story telling about a show that she watched as a child, a TV show about a magic pencil that could create anything that was drawn with it. The boy who used it, the hero, always used the magic to protect people who needed help. Malala thought of the things she would do with a magic pencil.
In “Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals that Help Them Heal,” authors Dava Guerin and Kevin Ferris tell story after story of a veteran and the animals — mostly dogs but also cats, horses, birds, and a pig — who helped them heal. In many cases, the animals that saved the veterans helped them not only heal, but live a normal life.
The book includes a wonderful anecdote about an incident that happened during the Battle of Germantown in the Revolutionary War. A small terrier was wandering on the battlefield, and after he was captured, the Americans realized that he belonged to the British General Howe. Washington was advised to keep the dog as a trophy and that it would demoralize the British troops. Washington, however, declared a truce and had the dog returned to his owner. He realized the importance of the bond between man and dog. Continue reading
“Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears that Count, Goats that Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion” by Belinda Recio is a wonderful read filled with lovely photos of animals and information about how animals have many, many abilities of which most humans are unaware.
With “The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals” by Joel Sartore, National Geographic has created an album of incredibly beautiful — stunning, actually — photos of animals, many of which are critically endangered. But it’s not just a compendium of animal photographs. This book goes much further.
Each page and placement of the animal species is carefully considered and artistically placed. Just leafing through the pages, the reader immediately notices that the pictures are paired in artistically and visually pleasing ways.
Who doesn’t love elephants? After reading “How to Be an Elephant” by Katherine Roy, kids (and adults) will love elephants even more. The book is beautifully illustrated with watercolor scenes and filled with interesting information about elephants from birth on. The first page of information is “Family Matters,” and Roy explains that African elephants are “one of the species on Earth that live in permanent social groups.” She compares what a baby elephant needs to learn to what a baby human needs to learn. Readers learn about how elephants walk with their huge bodies and what makes their nose so important and powerful. It’s fascinating! Included are diagrams that clarify the text and make it visually appealing. The life-like sketches almost seem to move at times as Roy shows a baby through different stages growing up and learning to behave. Kids will really enjoy this book as a read aloud and later as a book to peruse and learn from. (Roaring Brook Press)
The stories and the people in “Wild Lives: Leading Conservationists on the Animals and the Planet They Love” by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh is a book filled with inspiration. The twenty “conservation pioneers” are all people who have eschewed an easy life in favor of a life filled with sacrifice and occasional hardship — but also immense reward and fulfillment.
Three bilingual board books by Dr. Cynthia Weill and published by Cinco Puntos Press will delight young readers and adults, too. “Opuestos” (Opposites), “Animal Talk” and “Count Me In” all feature the artwork of artists from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This is an area filled with many types of artists. The work of different artists grace each board book. And each board book is bilingual, teaching the reader about concepts in English and Spanish.
Two of the books are filled with small wooden animal figures called alebrijes. They are carved and carefully painted. Some have parts that can be removed like ears and tails. There are many artists in this area of Mexico who create alebrijes. Continue reading
The story of Jason Morgan isn’t terribly unusual. He was serving in the special forces when he was badly injured in Central America. He ended up paralyzed from the waist down because of his injuries. He was despondent. Like many who serve in the military, Morgan assumed that he would always be able to do things as simple as standing and walking. When he couldn’t do that anymore, it was devastating.
Morgan became one of the injured veterans who receive a service dog courtesy of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). And that is what makes his story special — the fact that the dog he received saved his life by giving him a reason to live. The story also includes a very important side story — that of Jim Siegfried, the person who raised Morgan’s service dog for the first 18 months of the dog’s life.
Yuval Noah Harari’s controversial — often startling — tome, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” will jar most of its readers. “Man God” seems at first to be a paean to humanity, a glowing description of where we may be headed — to divinity — but that god-ness is nowhere near as lovely as it sounds.
The entire piece is a treasure trove of scientific observations about homo sapiens, a unique analysis of the eras of our history, an objective view of the movements and religions of the twentieth century, and a daring prediction, thought not a prophecy, of what life may look like by the end of the twenty-first century.
Even now, Harari declares, we have basically overcome the old threats to our survival: plagues, famine, and war. He does not hold that those horrors have disappeared; rather, he asserts, they are no longer a threat to destroy our species. So we are now free to explore the roads to our most lofty goals: immortality, happiness, and divinity. Ergo Homo Deus.
But as we come closer and closer to achieving those goals == and we are certainly moving inextricably in that direction — a terrible and frightening paradox begins to emerge: reaching those heights will probably mean the end of homo sapiens.
Consider the conclusions of modern science: human beings are simply a set of biochemical algorithms. There is no external god or power that shapes or gives meaning to our lives. Intelligence, knowledge, and ultimately, power, depend solely on the collection of data/information and the processing of that data. Our machines, our computers, are far more capable of collecting data and processing it quickly and efficiently than homo sapiens alone can ever be. So as we advance, we must necessarily merge with those machines. That merging will result in super beings who will rule the universe and likely will treat plain old people in a manner very much like the way we treat our pets. Farewell homo sapiens.
A summary like the one above does not, of course, do justice to the plethora of information, factoids, histories, theories, and fascinating but scary — almost eerie — conclusions that Harari reaches here. But it’s all presented so logically, carefully, and convincingly that he makes it difficult to even begin to argue with him or his conclusions. And that’s scary, too.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper, the publisher, for review purposes. Review by Jack Kramer.