It’s not often that a tree serves as the narrator of a novel. Bay Area Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate pulls off the challenge with natural grace and grand purpose. Her red oak is old, wise and optimistic; home to many; observer and occasional agent; historian and storyteller with humans usually off limits. By tradition each May, local folk hang their wishes on branches, and one is from a Muslim girl, new to the neighborhood and the target of prejudice. As the tree faces a cruel fate, story lines converge over what’s right. Animal characters are lovingly developed, seen in soft ink drawings that decorate many pages. The ending is perhaps predictable but just right. Perfect as a read-aloud, this nuanced page-turner possesses a strong moral core, coming down squarely on the side of community, cooperation and kindness.
The youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever here pens a resounding memoir for younger kids. (“I Am Malala,” from 2014, is for tweens.) Now 20, Malala recalls how years ago, she “wanted a magic pencil.” Why? “I would use it to make other people happy” and to erase war, poverty and hunger. Instead, Malala uses a real pencil to advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Then, she explains, “Dangerous men tried to silence me.” That’s it for the Taliban’s attempt on her life. The emphasis is on Malala’s continued work worldwide. Illuminated with gold, rather pretty watercolors soften the harsh reality that some might feel is too much too soon. Because everyone deserves to know what’s what, Malala’s own measured voice makes this the right book for the right reason, even for kindergartners.
Stand under a shower of red, yellow and orange. Toss fallen leaves into the air. Especially on the West Coast, where it’s autumn-lite, celebrate the season in this warm companion to “When Spring Comes.” A wonderfully talented husband-and-wife team follows a girl in hooded jacket and yellow boots, taking in the many signs of fall — turned foliage, a mostly gray sky, chilly air, frisky squirrels, browned gardens, big pumpkins and ripe apples. The simple, understated story line works with the solidly outlined acrylics to place readers into a sensory experience — sights, sounds and taste. And there is an allusion to what’s coming: snowflakes at book’s end. Yes, fall is the subject, but change is the theme, the annual kind that preschoolers are just sorting out for themselves. Might tributes to winter and summer be next? Let’s hope so.
Mention of underwear is always good for a giggle. Thus, glow-in-the-dark briefs start out funny but turn frightening in this perfect-for-Halloween tale. From the creators of the award-winning “Creepy Carrots” comes more about dear Jasper. “Not a little bunny anymore,” he gets to choose his own underwear, bypassing “Plain White” at the store. He goes for “comfy” and “cool” with a monster motif, ignoring Mom’s good counsel. “I think they’re a little too creepy,” she says. Fact is she’s right. Too scared to sleep in them, Jasper tries to get rid of the ever more ubiquitous briefs. He throws them in a hamper, garbage can, mailbox and hole. They keep coming back! On midnight-black pages that emit ghoulish green, the story unfolds with just-right psychological drama, showing how Jasper’s fear and frustration eventually morphs into a growth experience.
In 1837, an 18-year-old girl finds herself queen of England. Her odd childhood as spare heir; her complicated roles as wife, mother and widow; and her long, tumultuous reign make for a most intriguing life story. Young royal watchers will revel in the details. Victoria is a fast eater, quick study and victim of postpartum blues. She courts major politicians of the day, rules a global empire and presides over unprecedented technological and social change. Her name is synonymous with an era. Graceful decorations fancy up the book while archival photos give a personal touch to the past. This is an exemplary portrait with warts and all, humanizing an iconic figure. Included is a family tree (there’s little George and Charlotte) and an explanation of limited monarchy. It adds up to a juicy but meaty PBS-like series on paper.
This restrained and relevant treatise gives wonderfully clear entree to requisite biodiversity. The main point: “Every kind of living thing is part of a big, beautiful, complicated pattern. The trouble is, all over the world, human beings are destroying pieces of the pattern.” Translation: Chemicals, over-fishing and deforestation are wreaking havoc with our planet. Message: Do something! Finely detailed watercolors show macro and micro views of diverse habitats, creatures and threats — the environmental kind. The storytelling is smooth, and the science is sound with tantalizing random facts sprinkled over busy pages. Did you know that there are 2 million kinds of living things, with new ones discovered each year? Information and ideas mix easily to satisfy curious kids and encourage a worthy goal: to practice more responsible stewardship of the environment.
Susan Faust is a member of the Association for Library Service to Children. She was a librarian at Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco for 33 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org