Category Archives: Children’s Books

‘The Wild Robot'(#1) and ‘The Wild Robot Escapes'(#2) by Peter Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Age 7+ but can be read to younger children) This creative story caught my heart and my imagination because it is innovative and heartfelt, but unsentimental. It is such a beautifully written and uniquely illustrated book for young readers; more fable than science fiction. It would be perfect as a ‘read-together’ because it has lots of appeal for adults as well as children. I was riveted myself and wished I was reading it aloud to a grandchild. On a vacation when I finished The Wild Robot, I was so excited when I discovered the sequel was immediately available from Overdrive, so I just kept on reading with The Wild Robot Escapes.

The story opens when Roz, a very special robot, finds herself marooned on a remote island. She is equipped to learn and increase her knowledge (as most AI inventions are), but she finds that in order to survive she will need the help of the animals on the island and that means learning to communicate and live with them in community. It’s a heartwarming and page turning read, full of great values, humour, self-sacrifice, tolerance, love of nature, resilience, and love. This book does not shy away from the realities of painful things in our lives, and indeed the first book ends with a cliff hanger. The sequel picks the story up seamlessly and also introduces another world that Roz needs to adjust to and then figure out how to escape from.

Peter Brown is a nature enthusiast and one day realised that the yearly instinctual activity of animals in the wild had a somewhat robotic aspect. Every year the animals went through the same routines and were almost programmed to do the same activities to survive and thrive. That is what gave him the idea for writing a story about a robot that interacts with animals. There’s a hugely interesting article by the author himself as he talks about the process of writing and illustrating this series: click here.

‘Raymie Nightingale’ by Kate DiCamillo

(Age 10+) What I love about this award winning author for young readers is that she doesn’t talk down to children. She does not spare them the difficult bits of life but presents them in a real and uplifting manner, soul stirring, but focusing on the kinds of things that carry us through hard times, like family and friendship and being challenged in life to courageously keep going when everything seems dismal. I love her perspective and her ability to write literary fiction for children that is captivating for adults as well. There’s hope, humour, and adventure in addition to feeling sadness in your very bones–it’s the stuff of great literature…for kids! Among her award winning novels are books that I own because I want to read them to my grandchildren, often. Among others, books like Because of Winn Dixie (Age 9+) The Tiger Rising (Age 12+), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Age 7+), and The Magician’s Elephant (Age 8+), and The Tale of Despereaux (Age 9+). Years ago I did a feature post on this author: click here.

DiCamillo introduces us to the ‘Three Rancheros’ in this book. Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana, three 10 year old girls who meet at a baton lesson and become fast friends. They are:
Raymie: whose Dad left town with a dental hygienist and wants to enter the baton throwing context so that her Dad will see her name in the paper and come back
Beverly: who knows how to pick locks and is incredibly brave, but often has unexplained bruises
Louisiana: whose parents are dead and lives with her eccentric Granny, never has enough to eat, is too poor to have furniture or electricity, and is desperately trying not to end up in the social services county home.

(Age 10+) The story of Louisiana carries on seamlessly in this companion novel to Raymie Nightingale. Granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave immediately. A few weeks ago Louisiana would have accepted this without question, but now she can’t bear to leave her new friends Raymie and Beverly and she’s not sure she will ever return!

 

‘Press Here’ by Hervé Tullet

 

Following instructions becomes a delight in this ingenious picture book for young children. Brilliant! (3-5 years)

I love the simplicity and interactivity of this book. Who needs an iPad? Press Here is not quite a board book, but the pages are extra strong and thick. What a playful and fun adventure to embark on together with a child in your life!

‘Jabari Jumps’ by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is finished his swimming lessons and has passed his swim test. Now there is one more thing he wants to do, but … maybe he should do some stretches first. Even though it looks easy, when Jabari is faced with the height and depth of the jump itself, he is going to need some courage. His wise Dad comes to the rescue with the best encouragement of all. He tells Jabari to think of it as a ‘surprise’ rather than a scary new thing, and that makes all the difference.

When I was taking piano lessons, my teacher Judy taught me a valuable life lesson on courage. When I was afraid that nerves would hamper my piano exam, she said something that has stood me in good stead ever since. She said, “Instead of dreading it, just try looking forward to it. See it as something that you can’t wait to get to.” Like Jabari, the positive twist of thinking of the scary thing as a ‘surprise’ was the key to helping him make the big splash.

Gaia Cornwall loved swimming when she was little and Jabari Jumps is her first picture book. I loved the illustrations which are beautifully done in warm water colours! The pictures capture the excitement and fun of a day’s outing to the pool. Road tested by a teacher friend of mine, kids love this book, evidenced by the neat student work they produced. Here is a sample!

‘Life’ by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel

Happy 2018!

Another year of reading and conversations about books coming up! Looking forward to it! Thanks for journeying together on this adventure! Can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than with an Annie Dillard quote and a children’s picture book about Life (thanks for the suggestion Nel)! Happy reading!


There is so much to love about life.

Stunning unique illustrations are a graceful backdrop for a few simple words about the wonders of being alive in the world. The narrative is honest about the ups and downs that are inevitable in life, but encourages readers to have hope–there are always new roads to take after a time in the wilderness. This is a gorgeous picture book with a good perspective on life that stresses the beauty of the natural world. A great addition to any young child’s library because it will also appeal to adults!

Rylant is an award winning children’s book author. She has written more than 100 children’s books. Here is her website.

An ardent conservationist, Brendan Wenzel is a proud collaborator with many organizations working to ensure the future of wild places and threatened species, especially within Southeast Asia. For a taste of his illustrations, here is a clip of They All Saw a Cat.

‘Goodnight, Manger’ by Laura Sassi and Jane Chapman

Here is an excellent choice if you are looking for a Christmas picture book for a tiny in your life! One of the most common challenges for parents of new babies is getting them to sleep. This delightful children’s Christmas picture book deals with that theme, giving the classic Christmas story a unique and human twist…I always prefer the familiar Christmas carol to be of this version: “the little Lord Jesus, some crying he makes.” Mary and Joseph are having a difficult time getting baby Jesus to sleep in the busy and noisy stable!

Chapman’s illustrations are done in warm colours and uncommon motifs. I particularly love how the angels are portrayed–men and women in colourful garb. Yes, they are flying around in the air, but they are not white females with wings!

Note: Here’s a great tip I read in a review of this book: put 24 Christmas books in a basket and read one each day for advent until Christmas day!

‘The Lotterys Plus One’ by Emma Donoghue

(Age 8-12)
“Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow…and grow some more. 

Now Sumac Lottery (age nine) is the fifth of seven kids, all named after trees. With their four parents and five pets, they fit perfectly in the Toronto home they call Camelottery. 
But one thing in life that never changes…is that sooner or later things change.”

Emma Donoghue has written her first book for children. It is a quirky, romp of a story about diversity and family, with non-preachy life lessons about inclusiveness and unconditional love. This modern-day hippy, environmental, cooperative family home-schools, volunteers, has several ‘rescue-pets’ and gets creative about just about everything. But how accommodating can this otherwise amazingly flexible family be when their grandfather moves in? He’s the one from the Yukon who they’ve never met and seems so grumpy. Sumac, the narrator of the story, is horrified to learn that he’ll be taking her room on the first floor and he has something called dementia.

Every family has “inside jokes” in the form of silly words or nicknames, and Donoghue goes all out with that kind of wordplay in this book. The Dads are PapaDum and PopCorn, the Moms are CardaMum and MaxiMum, family meeting are ‘Fleetings’…you get the picture. There are WAY too many wordplays which at times interrupted the flow and made me stumble in the reading. I feel really conflicted about this book because I love the idea of it but found it hard to read.

Undoubtedly there is an amazing message to young readers…people and families come in all shapes and sizes and colours and types and this definitely is something to be celebrated and normalized, but the author packed in WAY too much which really bogged the story down. In contrast, her portrayal of a five year old boy in Room was so much more simply authentic and well fleshed out–these characters just felt like silly caricatures, which then kinda defeats the purpose. I think unfortunately, she had more fun writing it than anyone will have reading it–a book with a great premise but a lost opportunity in the end.

Note: Royalties from this project go to Room to Read, a nonprofit working in literacy and girls’ education across communities in Asia and Africa.