Monday, July 29, 2019

The Gift by Kristine L. Franklin & Illus Barbara Lavallee

Barbara Lavallee is an Alaskan artist that my mother fell in love with when I was a kid. We had prints of hers on our wall, trivets with her art, the mugs with her art were set in a separate place so my brothers and father wouldn't fill them with coffee and take them to some far flung part of the farm and leave them on fenceposts, under a tractor seat, or in the milkhouse. 

As a hangover from my childhood, anything Barbara Lavallee has illustrated has instantly become a bit special. I found this book on a library shelf in Anchorage last summer and had to check it out. With a 50 book limit* on our library card, we had to make some hard decisions about what we were and were not taking home with us, but this made the cut. 

(This may seem like a gigantic limit, but it had to supply four kids, as well as myself, so it actually was a little hard. Books had to be put back on the shelf and left behind, always a sad, sad thing.)

I was already in favor of the illustrator, but the story itself was well worth it as well--traditional native fishing villiage, elder wisdom, and amazement at nature. 

Jimmy Joe loved to fish, just like all the rest of his family. 

So Jimmy Joe heads over to "help" the fish woman catch some fish. They get everything ready to head out to fish. 

My cousin worked in a gift shop in Anchorage one summer and hated Barbara Lavallee due to the dividing line down the middle of the faces. Having been raised on these prints and illustrations, I never thought about it before. But there it is. In every face. 

Fish Woman has promised Jimmy Joe a salmon fishing expedition. Salmon in their richness and bounty hold a special place in the lives and imaginations of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest/Alaska. Jimmy Joe is determined to catch the best, the biggest, and the most. 

Catching the fish and putting it on ice.

When he catches a fish and sees all its sparkling majesty snuffed out, Jimmy Joe is torn. He knows his mother wanted fish to eat, but how can he take this beautiful thing from the sea? 

Then!--the magic! The wolves of the sea appear. 

Deigning to show themselves is a gift from the sea. The wise Fish Woman and Jimmy Joe both recognize the honor. 

And suddenly, Jimmy Joe knows what to do with the magnificent fish he caught--return it as a gift to the orcas. 

This is a little confusing since he was hesitant to catch the fish and use it to feed his own family, but I guess being the meal of an orca is a bit more fascinating to a little boy than being the meal of a mere human. 

And he heads home--salmonless, but with an amazement and wonder of the sea. 

I like the practicality of this book--Jimmy Joe, while lamenting the necessity of killing such an amazing creature, also understands enough of nature to know the salmon can't escape being someone's meal. 

I love the Fish Woman helping him come to that realization. I like Jimmy Joe being allowed to spend time with (and wanting to spend time with) this elderly person who has so much wisdom and understanding to share with him. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Turtle in Paradise and Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Rather cluelessly, I read Full of Beans before I read Turtle in Paradise. Which is interesting. Because Full of Beans takes place just BEFORE Turtle in Paradise, but was written AFTER. 

So I feel like I read it backwards even though technically I read it chronologically. 

First of all, both are great historical fiction books set in Key West during the Great Depression. This was just before Key West became a tourist destination, so there is certainly some gritty reality in them. 

(Also, avocados are called alligator pears. I enjoyed this detail for no real reason.)

Turtle in Paradise deals with a girl named Turtle who is sent off to live with relatives in Key West because her mother took a job as a live in housekeeper to someone who won't have kids around. In Key West, Turtle gets to know her family and finds adventure. 

Full of Beans gives us a backstory for Turtle's cousin Beans. I know Turtle in Paradise won a Newbery Honor, but I definitely liked Full of Beans more. Beans is an opportunistic realist, which makes him a fascinating character. He is an entrepreneur where there are no jobs and hardly any money. But somehow, Beans figures out a way to make a few bucks. Not surprisingly, Beans has a few moments of moral quandary or two as he makes money doing odd jobs that are not always strictly legal. If no one is hurt, does it matter? A question for the ages.

I liked Turtle, but Beans captured my heart. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara & Illus by Esmé Shapiro

It is always interesting to me when society has a renewed interest in someone long dead. Alexander Hamilton hasn't done anything interesting in over 200 years and somehow, he is a person of very current interest and passion.

The power of a musical. 

This book is an interesting look at Alexander Hamilton's wife, an interesting and important player in the Revolutionary/Early Years Era of American history.

 You can see the sway of the musical in the fact that the actress that plays Eliza in the play has graced the book with an afterward; giving her blessing.  

The book itself is written like a letter from an older Elizabeth to her soon to be born great-grandchild. 

While no such letter exists, it is an interesting format to convey a personal touch and a wealth of information. 

Eliza goes all the way back to her birth, sharing details of her parent's life and home north of Albany. 

Eliza like all good heroines was a bit unconventional, loving the outdoors and not being afraid of anything. Unlike her visiting friends who were a little hesitant about the wildness of newly settled area. 

Eliza is true to the era, depicting her family's slaves and a destroying fire that moved through during her childhood. 

Do you remember the discussion a year or two ago about how slaves were depicted in children's books? Sophie Blackall's illustrations in A Fine Dessert and Vanessa Brantley-Newton's illustrations in A Birthday Cake for George Washington were widely criticized because they depicted the slaves as smiling or enjoying their enslavement. Clearly Shapiro learned from that conversation. 

The courtship of the young, passionate, and orphaned Alexander and the well-connected Elizabeth

Their home filled with light, love, and children

The day of Alexander's death

After Alexander's death, Elizabeth devoted herself to making the world more gentle and kind to those destitute and needy. 

Along with several others, Eliza was involved in establishing the Orphan Asylum Society which is still operating under the name of Graham Windham. 

This is a children's book, so it doesn't include all the details about the Alexander's life, including Alexander's affair with Maria Reynolds becoming public, their first son being killed in a duel only two years before Alexander was killed in his own duel, and her oldest daughter who had a mental breakdown after her brother's death and was there after described as being in "an eternal childhood" for the rest of her life. 

But overall, this book has a wealth of knowledge about an interesting woman involved in the founding of America. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Okay, this book. I was pretty sold on it just from the blurb--a father-daughter duo traveling around the country in an old bus? Yes please, fulfill all my dreams. 

And the cover! See that cover? 

That there is Coyote sitting on the top of Yager, the school bus, with Ivan the cat. A few wispy leaves, a touch of red, and a fancy script?  


(Whoever said you shouldn't judge a book by the cover was full of baloney. A good cover is pretty vital. That is one thing I have learned as a school librarian--no matter how good the book, kids will not read it if the cover is some cheesy thing from the 1990s.) 

So a great cover, a great premise, and it even delivers. 


The first page sees Coyote in a gas station in bare feet, choosing her slushie flavor wisely, (watermelon is always a mistake) while her dad is filling up. Strong start with an interesting female lead with plenty of depth. 

Coyote's hippie father Rodeo operates under the belief that if the past was hard (and it was) the only way to deal is to pretend it never happened. So his life (and by default, Coyote's life as well) is one giant game of pretend nothing bad ever happened and that we don't miss anyone at all. 

Which worked fine when Coyote was 8. But now that she is verging on being a teenager, she is beginning to question that philosophy a little bit. After a phone call from her grandmother that lets Coyote know a childhood park with nostalgic, personal treasure is being torn up, she has to finagle her father from Florida to Washington state to reclaim her treasure in a weeks time without him really being aware of it. Because going "home" is a hard no from Rodeo. Too painful. Just like his rule about Coyote never calling him Daddy. 

Hard, absolute no. 

With the help of a fate and a few wayward strangers, Coyote gets him very, very close to the goal before he figures out what is going on. That is when things fall apart a little bit for Rodeo. 

But when things fall apart Coyote can finally put them back together again in the right order for the first time in five years. Because sometimes fathers need their daughters. Just like daughters need their fathers to be fathers, not just traveling companions. 

My only minor complaint about this book is that the people they picked up along the way seemed a little like someone was checking off a checklist. An African-American? Check. A single Hispanic mother and son? Check. A misunderstood lesbian? Check. A crazy goat? Check... (oh wait--that was just a bonus.) That is not to say these characters were not well developed. I loved all of the characters. And how they joined Coyote's story was well done. The identities just seemed a teensy bit too coincidental. 

Don't let that put you off the book though--It was so good! I laughed and I cried. And there was hope. And a goat. And a bus. 

Read it! 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Anne Arrives by Kallie George and Illus by Abigail Halpin

I was a little skeptical of this book. I mean how can you distill LM Montgomery into a short little picture book? 

BUT it really only handles a chapter or two per book (because other books are in the works!), so it isn't wildly condensed.

And it is illustrated by Abigail Halpin who happens to be a favorite of mine.

End papers

Floral borders are the best.

Wild roses and Mrs. Lynde puzzling over Matthews unprecedented trip to Carmondy in the middle of the day. 

Rachel Lynde going over to grill Marilla about circumstances. 

Anne waiting patiently.

The thing about favorite books being turned into illustrated versions is things do not always look exactly how they look in your head. The White Way of Delight looked differently. And it wasn't sunset yet. 

I feel like I need to reread this just so I can see if I was missing some details. Because that is entirely possible. 

Discussing the burden of red hair.


Communing with the Snow Queen outside her window.

Anne determined to be happy even though she was being sent back.

The red roads of Prince Edward Island

And then the delight of staying and getting to name the geranium on the window sill.

Mrs. Lynde receiving mortal offense. 

Anne in high dudgeon. 

Anne, crowned and boqueted with wildflowers. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

I admit it--I bought this for the cover. Flowers, long hair in the wind, and the phrase "Texas Sunrise Motel." A bit of a trifecta really. 

And it was SO GOOD.

Stevie is the beloved daughter of two flower/fruit farmers New Mexico . Life is good. Until some careless driver. runs into her parents roadside stand, killing both of them. That part is not good. 

When we meet Stevie, she is heading to her Grandfather and his Texas Sunrise Motel in Texas. She doesn't know her grandfather because her mother refused to speak of him. But since he is closest relative, off she goes. 

My mother and her brother were sent away from the family farm in Quebec to friends in Pennsylvania after her parent's death which made this book that much more interesting to me--I have always thought how devastating it must have been for my mother to lose her family, her farm, and her country. Stevie is much the same, minus the losing the country part.  

How do you recover from the total upset of your life?

Stevie isn't sure. But she is pretty sure that to continue life, she needs to be back on their farm. It is the only place that makes sense. But the adults in her life seem to have different ideas for her. As Stevie gets to know her gruff grandfather, the interesting residents of his motel, and the family she didn't even know she had, she begins to understand her mother and father better and learn a little of her own life story. When tough choices arise, Stevie has to think carefully about the new life she is building and what is most important to her. 

 And then, no matter where you are, there can always be flowers. Always.

This is a light book--we don't have any raw emotional scenes. But it feels authentic. Stevie is a girl I could relate to--her love of flowers! Her love of the family farm! There is a touch of friendship, a little bit of romance, family dynamics, and optimism to round it all out for a completely satisfying middle grade read. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Seasons by Lexbolex

This book is terrific. This author/illustrator won the Golden Letter award for best book design in the WHOLE WORLD. I didn't even know there was such a thing. Must go search up a list of winners....

Okay, don't bother. It appears to be a very European thing that US publishers don't participate in and seems to be very.... well abstract. It is more about the book itself, not the content as much. So if you are interested in the book as a design statement, you would love it. If you are just looking for lovely illustrations, they don't seem to be as plentiful or important. 

But I love these illustrations!

They remind me of vintage travel posters.

We are almost at this point of spring. About five buds on the apple tree have opened. SO EXCITED.

Lexbolex works with silk screen, which explains the layered look of different objects and the lack of intricate detail.

This makes me think of 1950's road trips to National Parks in the summer. 

Any book with geese in v-formation is sort of a favorite of mine. 

This was an interesting book because there was only one word per page, but 180 pages in the book. So it feels way too thick to be a picture book, but that is what it is. 

Imagine! 180 pages of this sort of delight. 

I am very thrilled that spring is just hitting it's stride, but this picture makes me look forward to winter a teensy weensy bit. 

But not enough to want to skip over spring and summer and fall at all.

Interestingly, this book goes through a year and a half, not just one go through of each season.

Cows! Calves!

It is warm for the first time in forever and breezy. And this is how I feel! 

First thunderstorm of the season last night. And I totally slept through it. Boo! But yay! for sleep!

Pretty partial to farming things.

I really tried to not take a picture of every single page. But it was hard.