Brooke Allen

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Animals have always been nature’s teachers and they remain so in these three pictures books focused on the animal kingdom. Children will laugh at the antics of the animal characters as they make friends and explore the world around them.

ME AND MY SHADOW

In The Black Rabbit, author-illustrator Philippa Leathers’ charming debut picture book, Rabbit discovers that a big black rabbit (which children will recognize as Rabbit’s shadow) is following him wherever he goes. Rabbit does everything he can think of to get rid of his shadow and finally succeeds when he runs into the deep, dark forest—where he meets Wolf, a foe much more frightening than the silent shadow. Chased out of the forest, Rabbit waits for Wolf to attack him, but opens his eyes to find that Wolf, too, is afraid of Rabbit’s shadow and has run away. The lively watercolor-and-ink illustrations highlight the contrast between the cartoon-like characters and the lurking figure of the shadow-turned-friend in this gently reassuring story about conquering our fears.

THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP

Children will learn nature’s power to bring joy when they meet the unhappy title character of Brett Helquist’s Grumpy Goat. Goat “had never had a single friend in his life” and doesn’t want one now that he is at Sunny Acres Farm. Helquist’s colorful oil-on-paper artwork captures the scowling goat, along with the happy expressions of his counterparts. When the cow and pigs come to say hello, Goat angrily chases them away. But he discovers a lone dandelion in the grass, and his frown begins to disappear. Goat finds happiness with his friends all summer long when a field of dandelions blooms, making Sunny Acres once again “the friendliest little farm in the country.” Inspired by an illustration he did for a book in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Helquist has expanded the story to teach children how important it is to literally stop and smell the flowers.

A DAY OF FIRSTS

In My First Day, husband-and-wife team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page teach children about what animals experience in their first days of life, using Jenkins’ distinctive paper collage style to illustrate parent and baby. Wood Ducks, we learn, jump out of their nests and swim after their mothers on the day they are born, while Siberian tigers can’t even open their eyes. Giraffes are able to take their first steps just after birth, and Sifakas must ride on their mother’s backs for protection. Children will learn how unique each animal is, while parents may be prompted to reminisce about what their child’s first day on earth was like.

Animals have always been nature’s teachers and they remain so in these three pictures books focused on the animal kingdom. Children will laugh at the antics of the animal characters as they make friends and explore the world around them. ME AND MY SHADOW In The Black Rabbit, author-illustrator Philippa Leathers’ charming debut picture book, […]
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The popularity of raising backyard chickens and other poultry is on the rise in our part of the world (and probably your part, too), which lends new relevance to children’s books about our feathered friends. We’ve taken a look at a flock of new picture books featuring chickens and ducks and selected four of the best. These books show poultry in their daily lives: laying eggs, taking care of little ones, learning lessons and bringing joy to their human caretakers.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

In Mama Hen’s Big Day, written and illustrated by Jill Latter, Mama Hen sets out to lay an egg in the “loveliest, safest, most peaceful place of all.” But she realizes that finding the best place isn’t an easy task. Among the places she rejects are a rattlesnake’s cave, a patch of tall grass where a fox lies in wait and a pile of leaves that turns out to be a porcupine’s nest. Determined to find a safe place for her egg, Mama Hen searches the whole town until she finds a soft patch of grass “on the tippy-top of the tallest mountain.” But her most important discovery is that the best place to lay her egg is wherever she is. Balancing the hen’s anxious search are happy watercolor blues, greens and reds and loose outlines to create a playful atmosphere. Mama Hen’s Big Day tells the simple tale of a mother whose greatest gift to her newborn egg is her presence.

FREE FALLING

Janet Morgan Stoeke continues her delightful series about the Loopy Coop Farm with The Loopy Coopy Hens: Letting Go. Little readers who are new to the series can jump right into the hens’ adventures without the need for catching up. Apples are falling from the tree and that can only mean one thing for these anxious hens: a fox must be throwing them. The hens summon the rooster who runs from the problem, but Dot is determined to get to the bottom of the apple throwing. She dons a helmet and climbs to the top. What she finds is a beautiful view of the countryside and no fox. After Midge and Pip join her in the tree to survey a beautiful view, all three decide to let go like apples and fall ungracefully to the ground. Fun sketch-like pencil outlines and fresh pastel colors accompany the antics of these ditzy chicks as they discover that apples fall from trees and so can they.

MISSING CHICK

Nora’s Chicks, written by Newbery winner Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Kathryn Brown, uses lyrical text and muted watercolors to tell Nora’s story. In Russia, there were beautiful hills and trees, but on Nora’s new farm in America, only one cottonwood grows by the river. Her brother Milo is not old enough to talk, and her neighbor Susannah is too shy to call a friend. “I need something all my own,” Nora tells her parents. When Nora’s father brings home some chicks and two geese for eating, Nora insists on keeping them as pets. Later, one of the treasured chicks goes missing, an event that serves as a catalyst to bring shy Susannah and Nora together as friends. Nora’s Chicks is the heartwarming story of one girl’s assimilation to America, and a reminder that animals can be true friends in lonely times.

PULLING TOGETHER

Based on a true story, Lucky Ducklings recounts a real-life duckling rescue in Montauk, New York. Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations pay homage to Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings, though her bright colors and detailed faces instill the book with a modern sensibility. Eva Moore’s narrative focuses on the struggle of baby ducklings caught in a storm drain and the rush of the townspeople to help them. With each new development in the crisis, Moore repeats a phrase: “That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t, because…” This structure propels the story along nicely and gives readers and listeners a sense of just how lucky these ducklings really were. Eventually, Mama and her ducklings make it safely back to their pond, and we learn in a brief note that the town later replaced the drain for safer duck crossings. Lucky Ducklings is an inspirational tale of cooperation and a quiet meditation on the importance of family and community.

The popularity of raising backyard chickens and other poultry is on the rise in our part of the world (and probably your part, too), which lends new relevance to children’s books about our feathered friends. We’ve taken a look at a flock of new picture books featuring chickens and ducks and selected four of the […]
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All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens, Gloria Whelan’s stand-alone sequel to Small Acts of Amazing Courage, chronicles the adventures of a British girl with Indian allegiances. Set in 1921, the story features 17-year-old Rosalind’s struggle to respect her British military father while staying true to her passion for Indian independence. Raised in India, Rosalind believes in the Indian hartal, the Congress Party’s movement of resistance, and secretly plays teacher to her own school of Indian boys while she is supposed to be studying English literature.

Rosalind manages to escape her father’s discovery of and retribution for these small subversive acts, but when her family is invited to meet the Prince of Wales in Calcutta, Rosalind may not be able to stifle her unpatriotic opinions about India’s oppression. Entrusted with a letter from Gandhi to the Prince of Wales by her friend Max, she must decide whether to risk punishment and the shaming of her family in order to show the prince the true struggles of India that exist under the glittering façade of wealthy maharajas and exotic gaming expeditions he sees on his trip.

India was given its independence from Britain in 1947, a quarter-century after the setting of the book. By exploring this early time in history, Whelan, winner of the National Book Award for her 2001 book Homeless Bird, sheds light on the long battle for Indian independence often overlooked in children’s history books. It is an eye-opening look at the troubling practices of racism and oppression so prevalent at the time, told through the eyes of an insightful and caring girl.

By choosing to trust her instincts of right and wrong, Rosalind sets a courageous example for children of all ages. All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens may spark conversation about injustices almost one hundred years ago in a far away nation. More importantly, it can get kids thinking about what injustices are accepted in society now and what they may be able to do to bring about their own small changes to the world.

All My Noble Dreams and Then What Happens, Gloria Whelan’s stand-alone sequel to Small Acts of Amazing Courage, chronicles the adventures of a British girl with Indian allegiances. Set in 1921, the story features 17-year-old Rosalind’s struggle to respect her British military father while staying true to her passion for Indian independence. Raised in India, […]
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In a lively new picture book, first-time author Susan Verde captures a girl’s experience of an art museum as a creative space filled with fun and imagination. A far cry from the familiar portrayal of museums as boring and stale, The Museum shows children how to enjoy the art-viewing experience and make it their own.

Verde’s text marches along in rhyming stanzas: “When I see a work of art /something happens in my heart. / I cannot stifle my reaction. / My body just goes into action.” Accompanying illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, known for his Judy Moody artwork, portray a young girl physically invigorated by the works of art around her. She dances after seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” saddens at a blue-faced painting and gets hungry when she sees a still life with apples. The girl and the museum are drawn in light washes, while the paintings come to life in vivid color, offering Reynolds’ homage to several famous works of art.

When the girl discovers a blank canvas, she doesn’t know what to make of it—“Where is the color? / What does it mean? / It’s the strangest art / I’ve ever seen”—until she closes her eyes and something happens. She begins to see colors, shapes and pictures coloring the canvas in her head. Brightly colored objects outlined in black fill the page, as the blank canvas becomes the girl’s own creation: “It’s mine to fill the way I choose,” she says, as she twirls in a joyous expression of her own creativity.

When the museum closes for the night, the girl walks out with the confident assurance that the museum’s “rhythm exists in all I see.” The book’s final wordless spread perpetuates her lesson, as the girl is seen frolicking in a whimsical and brightly colored landscape reminiscent of “Starry Night.” The endpapers at the beginning of the book show walls covered with framed artwork, while those at the back of the book are filled with empty frames.

For parents who have trouble communicating the excitement of art to their children, The Museum can serve as the starting point for a conversation. The book is also a wonderful reminder of visual art’s power to encourage and empower self-expression. Children and adults will finish this book excited about their next art experience, and perhaps tempted to dance through the halls of a museum in the near future.

In a lively new picture book, first-time author Susan Verde captures a girl’s experience of an art museum as a creative space filled with fun and imagination. A far cry from the familiar portrayal of museums as boring and stale, The Museum shows children how to enjoy the art-viewing experience and make it their own. […]
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How do you keep a diary if you can’t read or write? In The Matchbox Diary, a little girl discovers the answer when she asks her great-grandfather to tell her the story of the cigar box she finds in his shop. Inside are many matchboxes, and many stories for her great-grandfather to tell her.

The matchboxes hold objects such as an olive pit, which the great-grandfather used to suck on in Italy when he was hungry; sunflower seeds, which marked the days his family spent on the boat to America; and a ticket from a baseball game he attended with his father after arriving. Through these objects we, and his great-granddaughter, learn about his experience of immigration and how he rose from poverty and illiteracy to become an educated business owner.

Written by award-winning children’s author Paul Fleischman (author of the Dunderheads picture books, among many others), The Matchbox Diary tells its tale through a conversation between man and child. The conversational approach draws the reader directly into the scene as the great-grandfather recounts his life story without self-pity or dramatization. The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, well known for his work on such books as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, show the present in warm-colored acrylic, while pictures illustrating the past are in black and white or sepia, giving them the appearance of old photographs.

For young readers, The Matchbox Diary is an introduction to the immigrant experience. It also serves as a lesson in the privilege of education and the joy of holding onto memories through diary-keeping or collecting. The last page shows the little girl, who has just started kindergarten, beginning her own object diary in a candy box. Children may be inspired to start their own diaries too, or perhaps become curious about the diaries of their parents and grandparents and the stories they may hold.

How do you keep a diary if you can’t read or write? In The Matchbox Diary, a little girl discovers the answer when she asks her great-grandfather to tell her the story of the cigar box she finds in his shop. Inside are many matchboxes, and many stories for her great-grandfather to tell her. The […]
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In Sherri L. Smith’s futuristic Orleans, six deadly hurricanes have followed Hurricane Katrina, each more devastating for the land and the people than the last. When an incurable sickness called Delta Fever follows, the Gulf Coast is quarantined and ultimately abandoned as the rest of the United States separates from the affected states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

Twenty-five years later, the rest of the union believes that the Delta is dying; rather, a new society has formed, where bonds are forged and broken around blood type, and primitive tribes rule the land now called Orleans.

Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States, is determined to find a cure for Delta Fever, but the only way to test his hypothesis is to illegally sneak into the Delta. There he meets Fen, an O-Positive teenage girl who has been left with her tribe leader’s newborn baby after a deadly ambush.

In a moment of danger, Fen and Daniel make a deal: Daniel will take the baby over the wall to a better life before her blood becomes tainted in exchange for Fen’s guidance through the Delta. But what starts as a simple agreement becomes a deep alliance as Fen and Daniel fight for survival across the wasteland, encountering enemies and so-called friends alike as they learn they can trust no one but each other.

Sherri L. Smith, whose mother survived Hurricane Katrina, builds upon real New Orleans landmarks and history to create a feel of authenticity that will drive readers to keep reading until the very last page. Orleans is a heart-pumping meditation on the worst-case scenario in a region recently plagued by natural disasters, and thankfully, it’s fictional.

In Sherri L. Smith’s futuristic Orleans, six deadly hurricanes have followed Hurricane Katrina, each more devastating for the land and the people than the last. When an incurable sickness called Delta Fever follows, the Gulf Coast is quarantined and ultimately abandoned as the rest of the United States separates from the affected states of Alabama, […]
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Emily Elizabeth Davis (who was named in honor of Emily Dickinson) has been told her whole life that she will be a poet, but she hates poetry. She’s been told that she will meet her father when the time is right, but she needs her father right now. When Emily loses the book containing her life story and the secret to her father’s identity, she must decide which of two paths she will follow.

Does destiny control Emily’s fate, as her mother has always told her, or does God direct her life, as her religion teacher says? Does Emily have any say in the matter? Tired of waiting, she decides to find the book herself and adventure ensues.

In Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s engaging third novel, Destiny, Rewritten, Emily enlists the help of her eccentric younger cousin Mortie and her super-smart best friend Wavey to skip school—just for one day. She gets involved with tree huggers, makes a new friend and joins a club for romance novelists, a genre she likes much better than poetry.

In the process, she begins to change into an empowered young lady, one who has the courage to tell her mother who she really wants to be: a romance novelist and not a poet. It seems that Emily is well on her way to controlling her own fate.

When Emily discovers her father’s identity, destiny may intervene before she or her mother has a chance to meet him. But Emily has changed too much to let fate ruin her plans and take away the romance novel ending she’s always longed for.

For children who feel trapped into being someone they don’t want to be, Destiny, Rewritten teaches that everyone has a choice to take actions that can lead to a better place. Fitzmaurice’s thoughtful treatment of her subject offers a lesson that young readers can appreciate and a story they won’t soon forget.

Emily Elizabeth Davis (who was named in honor of Emily Dickinson) has been told her whole life that she will be a poet, but she hates poetry. She’s been told that she will meet her father when the time is right, but she needs her father right now. When Emily loses the book containing her […]
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Parents may be quick to admit their obsession with technology, but most hope their children won’t follow in their footsteps. In Matthew Cordell’s timely new picture book, hello! hello!, a young girl named Lydia finds herself immersed in electronic gadgets, but she is beginning to grow bored and lonely in this black-and-white, high-tech world. She greets her dad who is staring at his cell phone and her brother who is engrossed in a video game. Even her mother ignores her and taps away on a laptop keyboard. Lydia feels all alone, and she sighs in frustration.

Then, a leaf appears in front of her, and Lydia follows it outside to discover a brilliant, brightly colored world. She runs through flowers, meets a horse and rides through the wind with a whale, a buffalo and an octopus until—RING RING RING—her parents call her cell phone. But instead of returning home to stay in a stale house filled with electronics, Lydia swaps her mother’s computer for a leaf, her father’s cell phone for a flower and her brother’s video game for a butterfly. Hand in hand, the family walks outside together to say “hello” to the beautiful natural world outside their door.

Cordell uses few words to tell the story, instead using his distinctive pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations to convey Lydia’s delight in the beauty and bounty of nature. Inside the house, the electronics-obsessed family is sparsely drawn in black and white and their words are written in an old computer-style font. Outside are loose, handwritten words and color-filled pages, showcasing the beauty a child can find by stepping outside her door. Cordell’s hopeful story encourages children to play outside, while also challenging their parents to play with them, a reminder for all of us to take time to disconnect from work and gadgets and reconnect with nature and family.

Parents may be quick to admit their obsession with technology, but most hope their children won’t follow in their footsteps. In Matthew Cordell’s timely new picture book, hello! hello!, a young girl named Lydia finds herself immersed in electronic gadgets, but she is beginning to grow bored and lonely in this black-and-white, high-tech world. She […]
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Set in the dark jungles of Congo, Endangered chronicles 14-year-old Sophie’s accidental mission to save a group of bonobos when the country is overtaken by civil war.

When she arrives in Congo for the summer, Sophie feels unenthusiastic about the mandatory visit to her mother’s bonobo sanctuary. But when she saves a near-death young bonobo from the streets, she becomes an adoptive mother to the ape, called Otto.

When a minor government upheaval turns into a war, Sophie and Otto are forced to take refuge in the jungle with the bonobo pack. Bonobos are quite possibly our closest relative in the animal kingdom, and unlike chimpanzees, they form close-knit, protective family groups. Nevertheless, gaining acceptance isn’t easy for Sophie and Otto, and they soon discover the jungle provides little protection from bullets. Sophie’s only hope is to seek the safety of the bonobo release site on the other side of the country. With Otto by her side, she begins to cross a slew of rebel-filled villages.

Endangered is a thrilling adventure that explores the transformative bond between a human and an ape. Sophie begins as a fragile Congolese-American girl, unsure of her place in either country; by the end, she has found meaning in a cause that goes far beyond herself.

Set in the dark jungles of Congo, Endangered chronicles 14-year-old Sophie’s accidental mission to save a group of bonobos when the country is overtaken by civil war. When she arrives in Congo for the summer, Sophie feels unenthusiastic about the mandatory visit to her mother’s bonobo sanctuary. But when she saves a near-death young bonobo […]
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Red Cat and Blue Cat seem to be enemies, until we learn that each cat secretly wishes he were like the other. Blue Cat is clever and Red Cat is fast and neither is happy just being himself. So blue cat has an idea: “If I turn myself red, I will become fast and bouncy!” Spying on him, Red Cat tries to do the same. Predictably, their scheme doesn’t go as planned and the two begin to fight. But after a tumble down the stairs, Blue Cat asks an important question: “Are you trying to be like me?”

“Maybe,” says Red Cat.

With this revelation, the cats help each other “become un-red and not-blue.” Instead of fighting, they teach each other the tricks of being clever and fast. Each cat works hard to be exactly like the other, but in the end, they both decide being themselves is best: “I can’t run as fast as you . . . but I am the best Blue Cat ever.”

With quirky pen-and-ink and charcoal drawings mixed with splotches of bright color, Jenni Desmond’s illustrations depict the chaos that follows the cats’ quarrels. The lesson of Red Cat, Blue Cat is predictable, but important for children who struggle with embracing their own identity. And the ending adds a clever twist when Yellow Cat arrives on the scene, promising another round of identity envy. I can’t wait to see what else Desmond has in store after such a strong debut.

Red Cat and Blue Cat seem to be enemies, until we learn that each cat secretly wishes he were like the other. Blue Cat is clever and Red Cat is fast and neither is happy just being himself. So blue cat has an idea: “If I turn myself red, I will become fast and bouncy!” […]
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The award-winning husband and wife duo of Sarah Stewart and David Small have created a compelling story of empowerment and self-discovery for a 1950s immigrant girl in The Quiet Place. Isabel enjoys her new experiences in the United States like making snow angels and being at school with her smiling teacher, but she misses Mexico—especially her Aunt Lupita. Speaking English is scary, but she practices by writing letters to her aunt, letters that expertly tell the story of her struggle to adjust to her new home.

Isabel’s family is warm and understanding, providing her with large cardboard boxes with which to construct a “quiet place” where she feels safe and secure. As she decorates her special getaway with origami and bright colors, it expands to become her own private world. As she helps her mother bake birthday cakes for the neighborhood children, Isabel begins to feel accepted. The story ends with Isabel’s own birthday celebration—and the whole neighborhood in attendance.

Through Small’s illustrations we learn that the quiet place has become the star of the show and Isabel is able to share the space with her new friends while simultaneously sharing her culture.

Small’s mixed-media illustrations add context and depth to Isabel’s story and serve to complete the letter-narrative. The Quiet Place is a warm and encouraging story of assimilation, not just for immigrants, but for any child trying to find a place in his or her community.

The award-winning husband and wife duo of Sarah Stewart and David Small have created a compelling story of empowerment and self-discovery for a 1950s immigrant girl in The Quiet Place. Isabel enjoys her new experiences in the United States like making snow angels and being at school with her smiling teacher, but she misses Mexico—especially […]

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