Travel to Great Britain – Kidlit Roundup

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TRAVEL TO ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
A Picture Book Roundup

 

Maisy Goes to London
Written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 2-5)

An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids
A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids
Written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling
(EK Books; $17.99; ages 6-10)

 

Travels through England and Scotland

Maisy_Goes_to_LondonI was raised in England, so I’m partial to books about the British Isles. Luckily, there are so many of them! We begin with Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Goes to London, which is a perfect introduction to the fabulous city for children ages three to seven. Maisy and her friends are sightseeing in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and there’s so much to see and do! They climb the lions in Trafalgar Square and see Nelson’s Column. Right across the street is the National Gallery, home to “so many amazing paintings. Maisy likes the sunflowers best.”  Of course, no trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. With stops at a park and the Tower of London—“Cyril and Charley love the Beefeater’s colorful uniform”—Maisy and company cover a lot of the most recognizable sites. As always, Lucy Cousins’ delightful artwork and easy-to-understand word choice hit the mark for younger readers.

 

An-English-Year-300x288For a broader look at modern England, older readers can check out An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling. Five children, Victoria, Aman, Tandi, George, and Ameli, are our guides to festivals, games, traditions, sites, animals, and foods from different parts of England. Each month has a double page spread and is filled with delightful pictures that depict the text. Each spread features about 12 facts for the month. The books is chock full of information! I personally loved seeing the hot, roasted chestnuts in a paper bag for January and the Punch and Judy puppet show for June. The references to lesser-known facets of living, such as “we gobble Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers” (June) and BBC’s Children in Need fundraiser (November), add to the sense of discovery. Details such as these, in addition to the more mainstream items like Stonehenge and Royal Ascot, go a long way in creating a real sense of life in England.

 

A-Scottish-Year-300x288McCartney and Snerling have also created the series’ companion book, A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids. In similar fashion to the England book, Scotland’s heritage is presented via five children—Rashida, Sophie, Dominik, Isla, and James. We learn that on Twelfth Night, people “take down our Christmas Tree to avoid bad luck” (January) and that “Tartan Day celebrates everything good about Scotland” (April). We’re introduced to blaeberry picking (July) and “redding the house, to bring in a fresh new year” (December). The use of Scottish vernacular (for example, dreich, meaning dull, depressing, dreary weather) and inclusion of celebrations (the Braemar Gathering and the Royal Highland Show) produce a vivid feel for the pride that the Scottish feel for their country.

Readers may realize that more context or detail is needed to explain some of the information in the books. For example, English Year states, “At birthday parties, we play lots of games. Dad tries to give us The Bumps!” We did this when I was a child, so let me explain. The Bumps is when the birthday child is lifted by the arms and legs, and his/her bottom is bumped on the ground the number of years he/she is turning. It’s fun. Scottish Year mentions that in November “we put on our coats and play conkers outdoors.” I have fond memories of playing conkers with my classmates. A conker is a horse chestnut with a shoelace strung through it. Children then aim and hit their conkers at each other’s. Whichever conker outlasts the other, wins. Even though some research may be needed if a reader wants to dig deeper, the basic information doesn’t distract from the charm of the books.

The artwork is adorable. Each book’s characters show features of life at home, school, play, festivals, and so on. Illustrations introduce the months. In Scottish Year, March has a rain cloud hovering over it and rain sprinkling from the M, and September has leaves swirling around it. The text incorporates different colors and line shapes. For example, the text weaves around illustrations, some words are colored, some letters have their circles filled in, and some are in different sizes. The visuals, including the endpages, are appealing and encourage readers to follow the text.

Each book ends with a list of counties/regions and a map of the country filled with fun facts. I had no clue that Scotland has over 790 islands! I did know, however, that England consumes more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Tea is such a large part of the culture. I appreciated the multicultural aspect that reflects the reality of these countries today. It begins with the inclusion of the children’s characters from Pakistan, India, Jamaica, and Poland, as well as England and Scotland, of course. While plenty of traditional aspects are presented, so are the more contemporary contributions from the various “introduced cultures” that have become a part of the fabric of England and Scotland. For example, in English Year, we learn that “Holi is the Spring Festival of Colours. We cover each other in coloured paint” and that “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. No more fasting!” To ensure authenticity, the books have been produced in consultation with native English and Scottish advisors, school teachers, and school children.

If you aren’t traveling to the British Isles this year, or even if you are, these three books are a wonderful introduction to London, England, and Scotland.

  • Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

 


Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez
(Toon Books; $16.95, Ages 8-12)
Also available in Spanish

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A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal & Booklist

Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.

intimageLostinNYC.jpgI’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.

“I was only trying help.” – Alicia
“Help?” – Pablo
“What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo
“I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia

It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to  look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”

Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.

I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout!  Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. 

Click here to download a guide for teachers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Picture Books Back to School Giveaway

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Enter our exciting picture books giveaway today!

Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.

9780544104433_lresNANA IN THE CITY by Lauren Castillo (available in bookstores September 2, 2014) $16.99, Ages 4-8  Now a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book!!

Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)

This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”

With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is  actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”

Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.

9780544233515CREATURE_FEATURES_HICREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection

Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually  …

Dear red squirrel:

Does that fur on  your ears help you hear better?

children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.

No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.

There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of.  Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.

9780544164666SMALL BLUE AND THE DEEP DARK NIGHT by Jon Davis (available in bookstores now) $16.99, Ages 4-8

Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.

But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”

I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or  frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure.  And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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