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Christmas Books Roundup Part Two

CHRISTMAS BOOKS ROUNDUP
PART TWO
By Cathy Ballou Mealey & Ronna Mandel

ChristmasBooksRoundup

 

MerryMerryHollyHollyMerry Merry Holly Holly (Cork and Fuzz)
Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Lisa McCue
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Merry Merry Holly Holly is a simple and sweet feel good story to share this holiday season. Usually found in level readers, Cork and Fuzz have entertained children for 10 years, but for their anniversary they’re starring in their first picture book. Cork the muskrat “had a head full of thoughts,” while Fuzz the possum “seems to have a head full of air.” Cork felt there was something special about this particular snowy day, only he couldn’t quite put his finger (or paw) on why. Lying under the canopy of a tree (or bare branches in some cases) was the ideal “little piece of quiet” that Cork needed to figure things out so this tale unfolds as the two friends go in search of a good tree. Along the way Fuzz finds a bell he thinks is a stone providing the impetus for some Merry Merry Holly Holly singing, sure to tempt little ones to join in. It’s obvious that Cork and Fuzz, like Frog and Toad or George and Martha, have the most marvelous give and take friendship. When Cork discovers why he felt the day was so special, your child will undoubtedly agree. McCue’s artwork sparkles and brings these two endearing characters to life with every turn of the page.

TheNightBeforeChristmasThe Night Before Christmas
Written by Clement C. Moore
lllustrated by David Ercolini
(Orchard Books; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly. Ercolini’s zany contemporary illustrations bring a fresh spin to the oft-repeated poem. Kooky reindeer costumes, lavishly outlandish decorations and zany elf antics makes this cartoony Christmas a visual delight to pore over repeatedly.

A Homemade Together ChristmasAHomemadeTogetherChristmascvr
by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

A delightful family of rosy-cheeked pigs decide to make Christmas gifts for one another rather than buy them. While Luca’s parents and sister Rosie get busy creating their presents, the youngest pig struggles to execute his ideas. Then on Christmas Eve his efforts finally inspire a just-right gift for this sweetly non-commercial family tale.

TheNightTheLightsWentOutonChristmasThe Night The Lights Went Out on Christmas
Written by Ellis Paul
Illustrated by Scott Brundage
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

A bright, funny look at how one family’s Christmas light display grew over time until their entire neighborhood was bathed in a dazzling neon glow. Based on a song by the author (included as a download) the crazy accumulation of blazing doo-dads finally reveals that the ultimate holiday display was right over their heads all along.

TheGingerbreadManLooseatChristmasThe Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas
Written by Laura Murray
Illustrated by Mike Lowery 
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

The third book in the Gingerbread Man series finds the charming cookie champ teaming up with his class to deliver simple holiday cheer to community helpers throughout the town. Bouncy rhyme and a theme of gratitude and thoughtfulness make this playful spiced supercookie story a tasty holiday treat.

 

 

 

Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt!EnzoandtheChristmastreeHunt
Written by Garth Stein
Illustrated by R.W. Alley
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Garth Stein’s Enzo will likely steal your heart as he did mine. Told from this adorable dog’s point of view with humor and insight, the story takes readers to a Christmas tree farm where Enzo’s owner, little Zoë, is in search of the perfect tree. Zoë gets lost, there’s a case of mistaken identities and ultimately Enzo (with help from a Newfoundland), saves the day. All the while the perfect tree’s right smack in front of them! Alley’s illustrations in “pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, gouache and acrylics” convey just the right ambiance of a cold snowy evening settling in so be sure to grab a cup of cocoa before sitting down to read this one.

 

The Reindeer WishTheReindeerWishjpg.172x250_q85
Written by Lori Evert 
Photographed by Per Breiehagen
(Random House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The third title in this family’s beautifully photographed “Wish” series, the young heroine clad in gorgeous Nordic garb raises an abandoned baby reindeer with tenderness and love. As the caribou grows, so does their friendship, until he is invited to join Santa’s North Pole team. A magical, visual fantasy warm with imagination.

 

Miracle on 133rd Streetmiracle-on-133rd-street-9780689878879_lg
Written by Sonia Manzano
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Miracle on 133rd Street introduces us to Papa and son, both called José, who must try to find a pizza oven, likely the only thing big enough for Mami’s roast. As father and son head downstairs in their apartment building, we meet a diverse cast of characters bursting with personality. It’s Christmas Eve and we get a brief glimpse of all the tennants’ lives before the pair depart 133rd Street and cross “over the Bronx River to Regular Ray’s Pizza.” The joy in this story stems from the way Manzano brings all the neighbors together with such love and warmth on a cold, cold evening to share the roast together. Priceman’s illustrations have a Matisse-like quality that makes the scenes jump off the page and into your living room, very much the same way Manzano’s characters make you want to move into that very apartment building or at least be there on Christmas Eve to be a part of the community and infectious camaraderie.

 

JingleBellsAMagicalCutPaperEditionJingle Bells: A Magical Cut-Paper Edition 
Written by James Lord Pierpont
Illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat
(Candlewick Press, $19.99, Ages 4-8)

An elegant interpretation of another holiday class song, this luxurious book sets the familiar lyrics in lush silhouetted landscapes of snow and sleigh. Highly detailed, thick cut paper pages, gold embossing, and an amazing pop-up finale pages make this an ideal gift book for adults as well as children.

 

 

 

LittleElfieOneLittle Elfie One
Written by Pamela Jane
Illustrated by Jane Manning
(Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Take a trip up North to Santa territory in this charming and engaging picture book. Filled with rhymes that progress up to 10 starting with Little Elfie One, eager for Santa’s arrival in one more day. Also included are mice, gingerbread men, carolers, polar bears, snowmen, stars, Santa’s helpers, reindeer and kittens. Using the nursery rhyme “Over in the Meadow” as inspiration, Jane’s cheerful choice of language coupled with Manning’s upbeat watercolor and ink illustrations (love the snowmens’ caps!), make Little Elfie One a pleasure to read aloud. Bring the excitement of Christmas with this book today.

 

TheChristmasMiracleofJonathanToomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Written by Susan Wojciechowski
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
(Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 6-9)

The 20th anniversary edition of this lyrical tale reminds us of a gentle grouch who keeps a sad secret until tenderly nudged into a new life by a young widow and her son. Lynch’s breathtaking early American paintings pair perfectly with the deep emotions of Wojciecowski’s sentimental tale, resonating with warmth and hope.

 

 

 

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A Giveaway to Celebrate 10 Years of Stink Moody

 

HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY, STINK MOODY! 
It’s Children’s Book Week and We’re Celebrating.

We’re delighted to get all Stinky with it as the Stink series marks ten years on the scene. And what better way to celebrate Judy Moody’s hilarious and curious younger brother than with a generous giveaway of books courtesy of Candlewick Press! We’ll be following up this giveaway with an in-depth interview with author Megan McDonald so please watch this space.

If you’ve read or heard of the popular Judy Moody series of books by Megan McDonald, then you’ll also be familiar with Judy’s younger brother, Stink. The last decade has seen Stink get his own book series (he’s got more than nine titles now if you count his Stink-O-Pedias) while growing in popularity, so much so that he’s even getting his own celebration from publisher Candlewick Press. The best thing about the Stink series is how McDonald weaves STEM into every plot, whether it’s about the solar system, sharks and guinea pigs or sneaker sniffing, and makes it fun. There are fascinating facts along with Reynolds’ funny cartoons included in every book so children learn while laughing. Sure to pull in reluctant readers, these chapter books are filled with just the right amount of illustrations, Stink-y humor, and lovable characters to keep kids coming back for more.

SharkSleepovercvr.jpgIn honor of this super sniffer, letter S loving “spotlight stealer,” we’re singing Stink’s praises and giving away three books including a brand new illustrated first chapter book and two new paperback releases. All books are perfect for adding to your child’s collection or for giving away to a fun-loving fan or school library.

Stink and the Shark Sleepover by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $4.99, Ages 6-9)

When a first chapter is called There Will Be Sharks you just have to read on! The Moodys have won an overnight trip to the aquarium and everyone’s going to be there including Stink’s best buddy Webster, that oh-so-annoying classmate, Riley Rottenberger, and sharks, lots of ’em. But there’s just one catch, after an evening full of activities, Stink’s heard a scary story about Bloody Mary and he’s creeped out so much that he can’t fall asleep. A ghostly red glow and mysterious noise coming from a door nearby doesn’t help matters. Stink might have to pull a prank, or two, because Judy is sleeping a little too peacefully in the presence of sharks.

Click here to read a sample chapter.
Click here to download an activity kit.
Click here for a teacher’s guide.

MasterofDisastercvr.jpgJudy Moody and Friends: Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid (Candlewick; $12.99, Ages 4-6)
Geared for “newly independent readers,” the Judy Moody and Friends series will breed a whole new flock of Judy and Stink fans. There are just a few chapters, large print, colorful illustrations and an engaging storyline. As this story begins, Judy and Stink are sleeping out in the backyard in the hopes of seeing comet P/2015OZ4, also known as the Sherman-Holm comet. Or in Stink’s case, the Sherlock-Holmes comet. The space theme is carried through when Stink, convinced that a giant asteroid is speeding toward Earth, decides to build an asteroid-proof bunker in the basement, transforming into Asteroid Boy to save the day.

0763672181.int.2

Interior artwork from Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid, Candlewick Press ©2015.

TheBigBadBlackoutcvr.jpgJudy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

With its cool glow-in-the-dark title on the cover, this paperback edition of Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout is certain to entice some nighttime reading under the covers by flashlight. A big storm, a blackout and time off from school – what could get more exciting than that? Add Grandma Lou visiting with a host of her pets to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for fun family time together. And some great stories to boot. Speaking of boots, Judy and Stink are going to be needing them with the amount of rain that’s in store.  But there are double rainbows at the end plus tips on what things kids can do during a blackout (reading books by candlelight, flashlight or headlamp is one of ’em) making this book a must-have for any home library.

 

 

TheBigBadBlackout.int.3

Interior artwork from Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press ©2015.

Visit www.stinkmoody.com to learn more about the character and his super series of books.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY BONUS: Follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/goodreadswithronna, then let us know and we’ll give you an extra two entries in the giveaway! Valid, too, if you’re already a fan. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Flashback Friday – What Really Happened to Humpty? by Joe Dumpty as told to Jeanie Franz Ransom

From The Files of a Hard-Boiled Detective

Booklist “Starred Review”

Winner of the 2011 “Children’s Choice” Award for the state of New Mexico

Humpty-Cvr.jpg

What Really Happened to Humpty? by Joe Dumpty as told to Jeanie Franz Ransom with illustrations by Stephen Axelsen, Charlesbridge, 2009.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a huge egg fan, see. They can be real smooth at times, make you think they’re one thing, when they’re really another. I like that in an egg. Hard-boiled, sunny-side up, over-easy, scrambled, but my all time favorite is the Humpty-Dumpty kind, especially served up fresh in a Film Noir or Dragnet-style kind-of way.

First reviewed in 2009, today we’re revisiting What Really Happened To Humpty? by Joe Dumpty as told to Jeanie Franz Ransom (Charlesbridge, paperback $7.95, Ages 6-9) with illustrations by Stephen Axelsen. The tale, recounted tongue-in-cheek (can you say that for an egg story?) by Humpty’s hard-boiled detective brother Joe, opens like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Humpty Dumpty was pushed.

what_humpty_spread.jpg

What Really Happened to Humpty? interior spread, © 2009, Charlesbridge

Now if that hasn’t got you itchin’ (you’re not allergic to eggs, are you?) to find out more … This clever, easy-to-read book simply cracked me up with its puns, plot and pictures. The mystery revolves around poor pushed Humpty, a pair of binoculars and a big wind. Readers’ appetites for a good, hearty romp around Mother Gooseland is whet by some well known personalities from childhood. The cast of possible culprits includes the Muffin Man, Old Mother Hubbard, Little Miss Muffet or Muffy, Spider, Goldie (as in Locks) and Chicken Little.

I really can’t tell much more without giving away all the good gags, but suffice it to say that its ending will leave readers satisfied. Kids will be happy that Humpty survives intact and his brother Joe, now vindicated for having solved the crime, can move on to new, more pressing business like helping Bo Peep find those missing sheep.

Click here to preview the book.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe

Today, reviewer MaryAnne Locher weighs in on Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe.

Never-Girls-5.jpg

Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Believing in magic and fairies from the bottom of your heart can make extraordinary things happen. So, get out your fairy wings and fairy wands and get ready for an enchanting adventure!

The Never Girls are Gabby, Mia, Kate, and Lainey – four ordinary girls who have found their way into the magical realm of Never Land. In Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy (Random House Books for Young Readers; paperback, 5.99; Ages 6-9) the fifth book in Disney’s Tinker Bell and Fairies series, Gabby has been asked to be the flower girl in her babysitter Julia’s wedding.

Gabby’s bubbling over with excitement so she puts on her dress-up fairy wings, breaks the pact she has with the other girls to never go alone into Never Land, and visits her fairy friends Tink, Prilla, Rosetta, Dulcie, and Bess to tell them her big news. The fairies are curious about what a flower girl does and what a wedding looks like. Gabby demonstrates how she’ll be throwing flower petals, but the fairies are less than impressed. Tink gives Gabby a thimble-full of fairy dust to take to the wedding so the petals will flutter and float to the ground. Gabby wants the fairies to come to the wedding so they can see her walk down the aisle, but the fairies haven’t been formally invited, so they decline. Bess can’t think of anything else she would rather do than go to the wedding. She sneaks out of Never Land and into Gabby’s room on the day of the big event. Gabby is delighted to see her, but knows she must hide her in her flower basket so no one else sees her.

What havoc can one little girl and one even tinier fairy create? Well…A LOT! Will they ruin Julia’s wedding day? Or will it be even more magical?

Although this chapter book is intended for early readers, even littler ones would enjoy the magic of having this read to them, too!

NOTE: Never Girls #6: The Woods Beyond (Disney: The Never Girls) and Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic (Disney: The Never Girls) will be released this April and July respectively.

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Best Kids Books for Black History Month

We’ve selected some of the best books for kids to read
not just for Black History Month, but anytime.

Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd – (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 6-9)

93879The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Don Tate – (Charlesbridge, $16.95, eBook $9.99, Ages 6-9)

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis – (A Yearling paperback, $7.99, Ages 9-12)

9780553494105Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – (A Yearling paperback, $7.99, Ages 9-12)

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman – (Candlewick Press, $6.99, Ages 10 and up)

Africa is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger with illustrations by Robert Byrd – (Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

9781419708466_s3.jpgSearching For Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden – (Abrams Books for Young Readers, $21.95, Ages 10-14)

The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield – (Abrams Books for Young Readers, $19.95, Ages 10-14)

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration by Shelley Tougas  – ($8.95, Compass Point Books, ages 10 and up)

 

 

 

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An Interview With London Ladd, Illustrator of Under The Freedom Tree

GRWR CHATS WITH ILLUSTRATOR LONDON LADD

Under The Freedom Tree – a 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection!

Illustrator-London-Ladd

Illustrator London Ladd, Under The Freedom Tree, Copyright © 2014 Charlesbridge Publishing.

Today Good Reads With Ronna and London Ladd discuss how, as the illustrator of Under The Freedom Tree (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 6-9) by Susan VanHecke, he came up with the illustrations for this picture book which we’re highlighting for African American History Month (also known as Black History Month). If you didn’t see yesterday’s post where we interviewed author Susan VanHecke, please click here to read it.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY
We’re joining other reviewers this week as part of a special Charlesbridge Publishing blog tour and hope you’ll take the time to visit all the bloggers’ sites. We’re also delighted to be giving away one copy of Under The Freedom Tree, so enter by clicking here for a chance to win. This giveaway ends at midnight PST on February 24, 2014. Please be sure to write Freedom Tree in the subject line and include your address. Like us on Facebook for an extra entry. A winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified via email on February 25th. Good luck!

REVIEW
Under The Freedom Tree shares the story of three captured slaves, Frank, James and Shepard, during the Civil War, who take an enormous risk to escape across dangerous waters in Virginia to reach the Union Army on the other side only to discover they are still not totally free. However, with the help of clever General Butler, a lawyer before the Civil War, the three fugitives are able to remain with the Union side on a technicality. The winds of change were beginning to blow in the right direction.

Under-The-Freedom-Tree-jpg

Cover image, Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

VanHecke delivers a powerful tale told poetically in free verse and based on actual accounts of the creation of America’s first “contraband camps.”  After word of Frank, James and Shepard’s successful escape, others followed suit. First hundreds then thousands.

Runaways.

Stowaways.

Barefoot, mud-crusted.

Better forward than back.

Former slaves built a community in what was known as Slabtown, or the Grand Contraband Camp. By day they worked for the Union, but they were freer than they’d ever been, some living in a home of their own for the very first time.  Silent witness to this all was the majestic old oak tree, the Freedom Tree. Illustrator Ladd conveys so much spirit and emotion in every spread, whether by depicting children being taught under the shade of the oak or the joyful gathering of the community to hear the reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “Lives forever changed under the Freedom Tree.”

Be sure to sit down with your kids and read this fantastic picture book that helps shed light on a little-known yet inspiring event of the Civil War. Also included are a bibliography and author’s note at the end providing more historical information that helps place many of the events in Under The Freedom Tree in context.

INTERVIEW WITH LONDON LADD

Good Reads With Ronna: When a publisher approaches you with a book to illustrate, do you see the completed manuscript or is it still rough round the edges? I’m curious because I wonder if your illustrations have ever influenced the direction a book can take?

London Ladd: It depends on the publisher. Most of the time I’ll get a completed script, but there have been a few times I will get something that’s in the last stages of editing. It’s minor wording that doesn’t affect my ideas.

Good Reads With Ronna: What is your illustration process, i.e. do you research the subject matter, then sketch and finally paint the art to be used?

London Ladd: I’ll usually read and reread the manuscript, then I do a few small quick thumbnail sketches. After that I start diving into the research and this is the most fun because I get to learn new things, but sometimes I get so involved I get lost and have to pull myself back into focus. After gathering myself I do more sketches to storyboard all the pages. Then I take A LOT of reference photos. I draw the final sketches and send to the publisher for feedback and after things are approved I paint the final artwork.

GRWR: In terms of medium for Under the Freedom Tree, did you use acrylics and combine them with pastels and colored pencils like your bio describes or did you try something different with this book?

Ladd: I primarily use acrylic paint, but recently for Under the Freedom Tree, I’ve combined colored pencils and pastels. I feel it adds more depth to the art and creates a signature look. When I’m working I get messy so my clothes will get covered in paint. It’s a bad habit I’ve tried to stop but I get so locked in I can’t help it. In the past I’ve tried oils on top of the acrylics but when it got on my skin I had bad reactions and discontinued use.

Under-The-Freedom-Tree p4-5_300-jpg

Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

GRWR: What is your favorite illustration in Under the Freedom Tree?

Ladd: That’s a difficult answer because I really love each illustration in this book for various reasons. If I had to pick one right now it would be the first page with them running because when I first read the manuscript that page came alive so clearly in my mind’s eye and heart. I could vividly hear the sound of the crickets chirping, the pounding feet of the three men in the tall grass, the hurried sound of their breathing in the night as they sneak off. If you watch the book trailer that’s exactly how I saw it in my head.

GRWR: Which was the most difficult to complete and why?

Ladd: I think the page where the people are rebuilding after the Confederate soldiers torched Hampton. I didn’t know how to approach it. What do I show? How do I convey in my illustration the words effectively? When I traveled to Hampton to do more extensive research and see landmarks like Emancipation Oak, Fort Monroe and Sewel’s Point (the spot where the men escaped from) I stopped in the Hampton History Museum and they had this amazing exhibit from that era. There was a replica of a burnt brick wall with an actual photo of Hampton after the fire in 1862. When I saw that I knew exactly how that page should look. It’s funny because without visiting I would have never created that page.

GRWR: Is it difficult as an illustrator to try to capture a unique moment in time and have your illustration convey a mood or incident?

Ladd: Wow that’s a good question. I guess it depends on the project. For March On I wasn’t born during the march on Washington so wanted to capture the moment. What would it be like if I was there and to be a part something so special? For Oprah I felt a connection to her story. I’m also an only child who had a fierce determination to better myself and succeed. With Under the Freedom Tree it was a spiritual experience for me as an African American. The issue of slavery can be a sensitive subject, that’s why it was so important for me to visit the sites and gain a deeper understanding of what I’m illustrating. To see the Emancipation Oak, a 400 year old tree that still stands to this day in person at Hampton University, and to stand on the very shore in Norfolk, VA and look across the Chesapeake Bay, filled me with so many ranges of emotions. The contraband slaves are not widely known in history so I wanted to illustrate their amazing story of bravery, courage and strength with honor.

UnderFreedomTree -0-11_300-jpg

Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014, Charlesbridge Publishing.

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An Interview with Susan VanHecke, author of Under The Freedom Tree

Susan VanHeckeSusan VanHeckeGRWR CHATS WITH AUTHOR SUSAN VANHECKE

Under The Freedom Tree2014 Junior Library Guild Selection!

Susan-VanHecke-jpg

Author Susan VanHecke, Copyright © 2014 Charlesbridge Publishing

Today Good Reads With Ronna and Susan VanHecke discuss how the seeds of a story were planted for her new picture book, Under The Freedom Tree (Charlesbridge, $16.95, Ages 6-9) with illustrations by London Ladd, which we’re highlighting for Black History Month.

BLOG TOUR
We’re joining other reviewers this week as part of a special Charlesbridge Publishing blog tour and hope you’ll take the time to visit all the bloggers’ sites. We’re also delighted to be giving away one copy of Under The Freedom Tree, so enter by clicking here for a chance to win. This giveaway ends at midnight PST on February 24, 2014. Please be sure to write Freedom Tree in the subject line and include your address. Like us on Facebook for an extra entry. A winner will be chosen by Random.org and notified via email on February 25th.

Under The Freedom Tree shares the story of three captured slaves, Frank, James and Shepard, during the Civil War, who take an enormous risk to escape across dangerous waters in Virginia to reach the Union Army on the other side only to discover they are still not totally free. However, with the help of clever General Butler, a lawyer before the Civil War, the three fugitives are able to remain with the Union side on a technicality. The winds of change were beginning to blow in the right direction.

Under-The-Freedom-Tree-jpg

Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014.

VanHecke delivers a powerful tale told poetically in free verse and based on actual accounts of the creation of America’s first “contraband camps.”  After word of Frank, James and Shepard’s successful escape, others followed suit. First hundreds then thousands.

Runaways.

Stowaways.

Barefoot, mud-crusted.

Better forward than back.

Former slaves built a community in what was known as Slabtown, or the Grand Contraband Camp. By day they worked for the Union, but they were freer than they’d ever been, some living in a home of their own for the very first time.  Silent witness to this all was the majestic old oak tree, the Freedom Tree. Illustrator Ladd conveys so much spirit and emotion in every spread, whether by depicting children being taught under the shade of the oak or the joyful gathering of the community to hear the reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. “Lives forever changed under the Freedom Tree.”

Be sure to sit down with your kids and read this fantastic picture book that helps shed light on a little-known yet inspiring event of the Civil War. Also included are a bibliography and author’s note at the end providing more historical information that helps place many of the events in Under The Freedom Tree in context.

 INTERVIEW

Good Reads With Ronna:  Susan, I had no idea the story would be anything other than straightforward prose, but it was so much more. It was poetic and flowed like the water that carried the three slaves to their eventual freedom. How did you decide upon this form of storytelling?

Susan VanHecke: Thanks so much, Ronna, and your imagery is beautiful! You know, I struggled for quite a while (a couple of years, actually) trying to write the contraband slaves’ story in prose. But it was just too dry, too flat, too distant. I didn’t think it would hold young readers’ attention or get them feeling exactly what was at stake.

Then one day I picked up a collection of the late, great author Virginia Hamilton’s essays and speeches. In it, she described a concept she called “rememory,” an “exquisitely textured recollection, real or imagined.” I liked that idea, especially the texture and imagination parts. I decided to make a personal visit to the Freedom Tree. There in the summer quiet, under those sprawling, sheltering branches, I could feel all those heart-pounding emotions, I could imagine all those daring events, that took place under or near Emancipation Oak.

It was a powerful moment for me, and it definitely shook loose the words. My “rememory” came in the form of free verse. I owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Hamilton.

GRWR: Did you happen upon the history of Frank, James and Shepard accidentally or was their story one you had heard about and always wanted to share with youngsters?

VanHecke: It was totally by accident. Do you ever get those local lifestyle magazines in the mail that are really just slick vehicles for home improvement ads? I was flipping through one of those when it opened to a photo in the back. It was a stunning, sepia-toned image of a spectacular tree. The caption underneath said that this was where area contraband slaves learned to read and write and heard the Emancipation Proclamation, what some consider the first Southern reading of that important document.

I was astonished that I’d never heard of this history, especially since Emancipation Oak is just a few miles from my home. As I researched the full story, I knew I wanted my kids and their classmates to know this exciting, little-known aspect of the Civil War.

GRWR: Under the Freedom Tree is a reminder that even in many places in the North, freedom for slaves was not readily embraced. How did some African American former slaves get to be free while others remained “contraband” until the 13th Amendment?

VanHecke: I’m certainly no expert, but it’s my understanding that former slaves could become free through manumission (emancipated by their owner, usually by “purchasing” themselves) or escaping to the free states of the North. Of course, slave hunters were always on the prowl—in the North and South—and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 created harsh punishments for those who assisted runaways in any way.

That’s what made Union General Benjamin Butler’s “contraband” decision so important. Virginia was a slave state, so by law (the Fugitive Slave Act), Butler had to return to their Confederate owners those three brave souls who rowed under cover of night to Fortress Monroe. But Butler, a lawyer himself, found a loophole: Virginia had just seceded from the United States, so U.S. law no longer applied to it. Virginia was now an enemy of the United States. Therefore, clever Butler was able to declare those escaped slaves “enemy contraband,” since they were being used in the Confederates’ effort to wage war on the Union.

As word spread, more and more slaves escaped and made their way to the Union line, where they too became “contraband.” They weren’t free, and in fact labored for the Union for many months before they were eventually paid for their work. But contraband surely seemed—and ultimately was—one step closer to free.

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Interior spread from Under The Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke with illustrations by London Ladd, Copyright © 2014 Charlesbridge Publishing.

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 6-9), with illustrations by Patrice Barton, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

 

The Invisible Boy book cover

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Parents, how many times have you volunteered in your child’s school and noticed an invisible boy? They’re not easy to see, I know. Like Brian, the main character in Ludwig’s touching and thoughtfully written new picture book, The Invisible Boy, they fly under the radar in schools all over the world.

Illustrator Barton’s drawn Brian in muted grays and white although everyone else is in color. Unlike Brian’s imaginative artwork (wonderfully rendered in kid-style by Barton) depicting Super Brian, he’s not a superhero “with the power to make friends” wherever he goes. Nope. Kids like Brian are the last ones chosen for sports teams, they don’t get invited to parties, in fact other kids don’t even think of the Brians as having feelings. They’re often overlooked in the classroom because they’re quiet and so well-behaved. Typically the teacher has to devote his or her time to dealing with the whiners and the yellers.

The Brians in schools everywhere tend to slip between the cracks like the Brian in this tale. So when a new boy named Justin comes to school and eats Bulgogi with chopsticks, he’s a perfect target for ridicule by the others. “There’s No Way I’d eat Booger-gi” says one nasty kid who, of course, gets a laugh. I thought I’d cry when Ludwig wrote of Brian, “He sits there wondering which is worse – being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

And while Brian may frequently get ignored, he’s smart. So smart that he puts a note in the cubby of new boy Justin, with a drawing of himself eating Bulgogi, “Yum!” The two boys hit it off at recess, but it’s clear Justin’s already made another friend, Emilio, who says it’s his turn to play tetherball. But Justin is kind and doesn’t leave to play with Emilio without first complimenting Brian’s artwork. When Brian wants to partner with Justin on a special project, Emilio holds Justin back. “I’m already with Justin,” says Emilio. “Find someone else.” I could feel my grin spreading when the image of Brian begins to shift from grays and white to greens and blues when Justin tells him the teacher says the special project group can have three people in it. As the friendship grows, and Emilio accepts Brian, too, a once lonely boy becomes visibly happy and colorful.

The Invisible Boy includes important back matter with questions for discussion that parents and teachers can use to prompt kids about the topic of bullying. There’s also recommended reading for adults and kids. With bullying being so prominent in the news, it’s great to have a resource like The Invisible Boy to enlighten youngsters about the pain and heartache of being ignored or ostracized.

  • 2013 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal
  • Featured in USA Today
  • Back-to-School Read Pick by Scholastic Instructor
  • 2013 NAPPA Gold Medal Winner

 

 

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The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

This post was originally shared last January. 

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
With This Junior Library Guild Selection

★ Starred review from Booklist

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Don Tate

The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2013.

We all love holidays, but Monday, January 20th is different. It’s not a day off from work and school to shop or spend time on social media. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (aka MLK Day), a day of reflection on this great leader’s life and contribution to society and also now a national day of service.

Inspired by an article she read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Pasadena author Eve Bunting has crafted a stand-out story in The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge, $16.95, eBook $9.99, Ages 6-9) with illustrations by Don Tate, one that children will always want to read when they learn about the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The understated poignance and significance of this picture book is not lost on adults either, many of whom will recall Dr. King’s funeral on April 9, 1968.

The Cart That Carried Martin opens with an illustration of an old cart for sale in front of an antique shop, Cook’s Antiques and Stuff. Two men decide they’ll borrow the cart and return it after they’ve used it. Its paint was faded, but friends painted it green.

“It’s the color of grass when it rains,” a woman said.

“He would like that,” said a man.

These types of short, subtle sentences full of meaning are what appealed to me the most when reading the book. The marriage of Tate’s muted watercolors and Bunting’s powerful yet understated language work so well in this picture book about an old cart destined to carry the coffin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his Atlanta funeral procession. The cart was attached to two mules, a symbol of freedom recalled one stander-by. “Each slave got a mule and forty acres when he was freed.” Everywhere, crowds gathered, people wept and remembered.

Along his funeral procession, Martin’s widow followed the cart as it made its way from the first funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church to the second service at Morehouse College. The mules, Belle and Ada, pulled so much more than a borrowed cart. The cart they pulled contained the coffin of a man who changed history. One of my favorite illustrations is of two wagon wheels in the foreground and Georgia’s state capitol building in the background with throngs of people watching, many mourners holding hands, singing songs or standing quietly to pay their respect. “Sometimes they stood in holy silence, and the only sound was the rumble of wooden wheels.” This newly painted green cart carrying King’s funeral casket was symbolic in that it was simple yet sturdy and strong enough to transport an almost larger than life individual named Martin Luther King, Jr. to his final resting place.

Interior spread from The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

Interior illustration by Don Tate from The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting

Though he was born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the third Monday of January every year. Back matter in The Cart That Carried Martin includes a color photograph of the cart that can now be seen at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site as well as a brief summary of King’s life.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

If you have a child interested in the civil rights movement, click here for my review of another great book to share, Little Rock Girl 1957.

 

 

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Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99, ages 5-8), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln written and illustrated by Maira Kalman, from
Nancy Paulson Books.

AMERICA’S 16th PRESIDENT, THE CIVIL WAR AND THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

Abraham Lincoln is probably one of the most recognizable American presidents, and with little wonder. His profile is on the penny, his portrait on the $5 bill, and his legacy is taught in both language arts and history classes at an early age. With today being the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Maira Kalman’s non-fiction picture book Looking at Lincoln is a perfect introduction (or curriculum supplement) to this venerable leader.

The book features many details about Lincoln, ranging from his birth through his assassination. For example, Lincoln only attended school for a year and a half and was mostly self taught; as a youth, he was kicked in the head by a mule; he always had an apple on his desk; he loved Mozart’s music. These details on the intimacies of his life help humanize Lincoln, so that he seems more of a person as opposed to a figure. Children will be intrigued to know that Lincoln liked to argue a lot and to eat vanilla cake. He stuffed notes in his stovepipe hat.

To her credit, Kalman presents the difficult subjects— slavery, the ensuing Civil War, and, of course, Lincoln’s assassination—delicately but realistically.

Terrible things happen in a war. The Civil War ground on. Lincoln went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a big battle. Thousands of soldiers were buried there. Many with just a number on their grave. On that sad land, Lincoln gave one of history’s greatest speeches, The Gettysburg Address. It was short—only 272 words—ending with “…government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The war finally ended in 1865. Almost a million people had been killed or wounded. The North had won.

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Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones

Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones with illustrations by Steve Simpson from Price Stern Sloan 2013.

Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones with illustrations by Steve Simpson from Price Stern Sloan 2013.

SUGAR SKULLS & GRAVEYARD CAKES FOR
DAY OF THE DEAD

Day of the Dead Activity Book (Price Stern Sloan, $9.99, Ages 6-9), written by Karl Jones and illustrated by Steve Simpson is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a primarily Mexican holiday. Celebrated on November 1 and 2 as a way to remember loved ones who have passed away, Dia de los Muertos has many traditions. The Day of the Dead Activity Book written by Karl Jones and illustrated by Steve Simpson provides information and activities to learn more about this ancient celebration. Readers will learn about the history of the holiday, including the influence of the Spanish conquistadores and the Catholic Church. What is an ofrenda or papel picado? Read and find out!

Activities include recipes for sugar skulls and graveyard cake, and instructions for face painting and making paper planes, papel picado, press-out face masks, and paper marigolds. In addition there is a theme-related word find, a crossword puzzle, and a maze. There are six press-out pieces to build your own shrine, four press-out figures, and two press-out masks. The fun doesn’t stop there: two pages full of Day of the Dead stickers finish off the book.

The art work is colorful. The skulls, prevalent in the celebration of the holiday, might be initially a little startling for younger readers, but Steve Simpson does a wonderful job of making them friendly. The Day of the Dead Activity Book is an active introduction to a holiday celebrated by millions.

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Footwork, The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire by Roxane Orgill

by Roxane Orgill with illustrations by Stephane Jorisch

by Roxane Orgill
with illustrations by
Stephane Jorisch

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

As a children’s book author who visits many schools, I am well aware of the numerous awards given out to kids these days. There seems to be a trend toward rewarding children out of obligation rather than for outstanding work. When I was in elementary school, receiving an award was a really big deal; it meant that you accomplished something extraordinary, something to be truly proud of.  It taught us that hard work is the only way to get to the top.

Footwork ($14.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-10) by Roxane Orgill is the story of how Fred Astaire rose to fame. It was Fred’s older sister, Adele, who was the dancer in the family. But after watching his sister so often, Fred really wanted to dance, too. Eventually their mother took them to New York to get dancing lessons, which led them to Vaudeville. But after they started getting a bit older, audiences were no longer interested in their craft. It was Fred’s unfaltering desire to succeed as well as his love of dance that helped him rise above his challenges and also rise to world-wide fame.

I enjoyed the cheerful watercolor illustrations by Stephane Jorisch, and found they really enhanced the story. So many chapter books do not have illustrations, but I always prefer when they do.

Interior illustration by Stephane Jorisch from Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire by Roxane Orgill (Candlewick Press)

Interior illustration by Stephane Jorisch from Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire by Roxane Orgill
(Candlewick Press)

Footwork shows young readers that great accomplishments require dedication and hard, hard work, perhaps the best lesson that we can teach our kids. For most people, shortcuts are not a realistic way to achieve success.  And by reading about the long, tough road Fred Astaire took to become the best dancer in America, they, too, will be inspired to work hard at whatever it is they wish to do. After all , there are no awards in the real world for mediocrity. Fred Astaire became the best at what he did by taking one step at a time, with no shortcuts, no favors and no “luck.” He paved his own way and by doing so teaches us that there’s simply no replacement for plain old hard work.

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Sticks and Stones

Author Christy Jordan-Fenton got the inspiration for her true stories When I Was Eight ($9.95, Annick Press, Ages 6-9) and Fatty Legs: A True Story ($12.95, Annick Press, Ages 9 and up) from her mother-in-law, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Both books are based upon the story of Margaret’s experience at a residential school as a child – When I Was Eight is a picture book, while Fatty Legs is a chapter book.

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The Story

Margaret is a tall, curious Inuit girl from Banks Island, situated high above the Arctic Circle. After her older sister, Rosie, returns from a year at a residential school far from home in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada, Margaret begs her parents to let her attend school, too. She so desperately wants to learn to read, but Rosie warns Margaret of the cruel nuns who cut her hair and made her do chores relentlessly. Yet still, Margaret eventually talks her parents into letting her attend the school after her eighth birthday.

On her first day there, Margaret quickly learns her sister was right, as the nuns make her cut off her braids and do chores. She misses her family desperately, hates the food and wonders why she ever wanted to attend in the first place. One witch-like nun in particular, named the Raven, singles strong-willed Margaret out and makes her do more chores than the others girls and is very unfair and cruel to her. Part of the girls’ uniform requires that they wear thick stockings to keep their legs warm. But one day, the Raven passes out grey stockings to all the girls in the school except for Margaret, who is forced to wear bulky, bright red stockings. The other girls laugh and torment Margaret, calling her, “Fatty Legs.” But rather than suffer any longer, Margaret does something unusually brave to stand up for herself.

When I Was Eight

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The picture book offers younger readers a simpler, less detailed version of the story, yet depicts Margaret’s fears and challenges at the school incredibly well. I like that the book introduces different cultures and places to young readers and shares the universal theme that we all experience both as children and adults – fitting in.  It also delves deep into the importance of being able to read well. The illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard are excellent and original in style, adding great dimension to the story.

Fatty Legs

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The more I read the chapter book, the more hooked I got on the story. Without sugar-coating the truth about Margaret’s emotional abuse by the Raven, the author tells the story in a way that’s easy to understand, so real, yet not too terrifying for the targeted age of the readers. Margaret’s courage and determination to learn will make readers feel extra close to this likable protagonist and will be able to relate their own personal challenges to hers in some way.

It would be extra special to buy both of these affordable books for your child so he or she could read the picture book in early elementary school and the chapter book when a bit older. The fact that these wonderful, culturally rich books are based upon a true story make them treasures worth keeping.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Something Froggy Going on Around Here

9780763661403_p0_v1_s260x420Megan McDonald is the author of the popular Stink (and of course, Judy) Moody series. Her eighth book in the series is Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout ($12.99, Candlewick, Ages 6-9). Just the title alone should make kids want to read it.

Stink is a really smart boy who just so happens to be afraid of the water. Despite numerous swim classes, he’s just not making progress. Then something strange happens. Frogs start to appear in Stink’s life. First he encounters a three-legged frog in the locker room shower. Then later a frog jumps out of his boot and yet another greets him in the bathtub. All this frogging starts to get a little bit freaky when Stink starts taking on the characteristics of a frog himself – from what and how he eats to how he loves to play in the rain. What about Stink’s fear of swimming? Do his frog encounters help him work through his fears? And is Stink really turning into a frog?

What I particularly like about  Stink and the Freaky Frog Freakout is that it teaches kids a lot about frogs  – what they eat, where they live and environmental issues that are threatening them. Although this is an early chapter book, there are some great black and white illustrations by Peter H. Reyonolds scattered throughout the story as well as several entertaining comics. The Stink series is perfect for reluctant readers since the books are easy to read and are a whole lotta fun.

Stink may just be what your child needs to get hooked on reading. Check out Stink’s awesome website here.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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A Very Odd Couple Indeed

Bird & Squirrel: On the Run! ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 7-9) is the humorous story of  a squirrel, a bird and one very aggressive cat.  Author/illustrator James Burks STK466877used his 15 years of animation experience to create this most entertaining, fast action graphic novel for young readers.

Squirrel, who is blue with a square head covered with an acorn top, is busy hoarding acorns to prepare for the long winter ahead. He bumps into goggle-wearing Bird, who wants desperately to befriend Squirrel and even travel together. But Squirrel is just not interested – that is until he has to unload his stash of acorns to save Bird from the big, mean, orange Cat. With no food for winter, Squirrel has no choice but to head south with Bird to a warmer place. So he packs everything he owns (which is a lot!), and the two set out on their way. The entire book revolves around the challenges Bird and Squirrel face while trying to dodge Cat’s attempts to eat them. With one rather frustrating, yet hilarious adventure after another, Bird and Squirrel do all they can to survive.

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The cartoon illustrations are crisp, bold and so much fun to look at. I was happy to discover that both the words and the pictures are of equal importance to the story. Because there are so many illustrations, graphic children’s novels like this can really encourage reluctant readers to get interested in reading a book. The story is entertaining, adorable, and Squirrel and Bird remind me a bit of the unlikely friendship of the amusing characters in the Odd Couple. Despite their differences, they work together to reach their goal, and I promise you will be enchanted by the way this adorable story ends.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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