Of Flowers and Friendship


Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

“A common flower, a weed that no one sees… But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion.” Thus is the humble dandelion beatified in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. In Philip C. Stead’s Samson in the Snow, Samson, a lone wooly mammoth, tends his dandelion patch with a level of care and attention that suggests he feels a similar way about these tiny bursts of sunshine. He is waiting for a friend, you see. But for now, the flowers are his sole company.

Then, a little red bird visits him (is that you, friend of Ruby?) and asks to take some flowers for her friend who “is having a bad day,” and whose “favorite color is yellow.” Samson tenderly gathers a few flowers for her to take, sees her on her way, then falls asleep, dreaming of “the color yellow.”

He wakes to white all over, as a blizzard has befallen the previously summery landscape. Samson is worried about the little red bird being caught in the storm–so worried, in fact, that he goes in search of her. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say Samson ends up with two more friends than he had before.

Philip Stead creates stories of friendship that gently nudge open your heart, filling it with warmth, magic, and inspiration. Each book of his is transformative to its readers. Dedicated to “anyone who is having a bad day,” Samson is a picture book that will definitely transform readers (and probably their days, too). Stead’s consistently innovative and expressive art (a combination of monoprint, pastels, etc.) is on display here, rendered in a limited palette of blues, greys, and browns with bright splashes of yellow (of course) and red. That final spread, showing Samson and his new friends after the storm has passed? Pure happiness, put on the page. Stead’s pacing here is also particularly poignant, as wordless spreads inform readers about the little red bird’s distress as Samson searches for her.

Reading this book is like receiving a lovingly-gathered bunch of flowers from a dear friend. It is brimming with kindness, heart, and comfort. It should be read over and over and over. For those children who understand what it is to be lonely, to yearn for friendship, this book will be exactly what they need–a gentle, touching reminder that friends can be found where you least expect them.

Ages 4-8.

On shelves today!

Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

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Time, Turtles


All the time that isn’t felt by the heart is as lost as a rainbow to a blind man or a birdsong to a deaf one. Unfortunately, there are many deaf and blind hearts that don’t feel anything, even though they continue to beat.

In a quiet, quaint town, little orphan Momo lives in the ruins of an amphitheater and spends most of her time playing with the other children. She has a particular, seemingly magical gift: She listens really, really well. She patiently hears all that is said and unsaid, revealing the truth beneath everyone’s miscommunications or rash outbursts. For this reason she is often turned to by village inhabitants as a confidant and mediator. Though Momo lives in poverty, she is rich in friends, who make sure she is taken care of. Her closest friends are Guido the Guide, a tour guide whose gift is in telling wholly absorbing stories; and Beppo Streetsweeper, who truly understands the meaning of enjoying the present moment. But something dark is afoot, as townspeople, and even Momo’s closest friends, are entrapped by the Men in Grey, who essentially hypnotize people into “saving time.” The truth is that these Grey men are stealing people’s time, leaving them in a frustrated, frenzied loop of trying to save more and more time as more and more slips away from them. Sound familiar?

Momo might have been written 43 ago, but the truths it reveals about the way in which we value time and busyness resonates just as clearly in 2016, if not more, than it did in 1973. It’s as if the Men in Grey have triumphed over us all, as we urge our world to move faster; keep us busy and occupied. To open Momo is to pause and listen (as deeply as Momo does) to another way–the way of patience, play, and process. The gorgeously-wrought story begs the question, “How do you want to spend your time?” Zwirner’s translation of Ende’s classic tale is rich with magic, humor, and a fresh lyrical quality that is perfectly complimented by Dzama’s elegantly simple illustrations. This book will appeal to any reader who enjoys walking the fine line between fantasy and reality–especially those who love Astrid Lindgren, Ottfried Preussler, and Ende’s The Neverending Story.

Favorite Character: Cassiopeia, a turtle who communicates with Momo via words on her shell and can see precisely a half-hour into the future. Yes, really.

Ages 11 & up.

Available now; paperback edition will be available in August from McSweeney’s!

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BookPair: Fresh, Feminist Fairy Tales

I have a particular love for fairy tales–the way they reveal truths in the real world, the way they can be retold and rewritten to uncover new truths (see: Angela Carter, Helen Oyeyemi, Kelly Link): this is a particular magic that fairy tales hold.

Below are two new middle grade books (one due out this summer; one in the fall) that are doing fabulous things with the fairy tale genre for young readers–giving them fresh, feminist voices that are empowering, enriching reads for any reader!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill


Once upon a time, there was a town. Over the town hung a heavy, pungent sorrow. Within the town were a people who sacrificed their youngest child each year to a supposed witch who would keep the town safe from the dangerous woods without in exchange. One year, as fate would have it, that child was Luna. Luna was a special girl–within her was a lineage of powerful magic that she spent most of her life unaware of. She was indeed taken by a witch, but that story is not what it might seem, nor is the witch what she might seem, or is anyone, really, what they might seem.

So much of Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is not what it might seem, in the best possible way. Her deliciously deft prose is as light and delicate as starlight yet as deep with magic as moonlight. She weaves her unique fairy tale with a sturdily-built world, strange yet beautifully-rendered characters, and plot twists that will leave even the most clever of readers breathless. The story is firmly fantasy, but its heart beats with a very real longing for family, love, and hope. This book is a must-read for fans of J.A. White’s The Thickety and Margi Preus’ West of the Moon.

Available August 9th from Algonguin Young Readers!

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When the Sea Turned to Silver

by Grace Lin


“To be in prison with the Storyteller is to not be in a prison at all.”

In Lin’s newest addition to her beautiful series based on ancient Chinese folklore, Pinmei’s grandmother, a celebrated storyteller, is kidnapped by the power-hungry emperor. He demands the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night in exchange for her safe return. Little Pinmei, scared and painfully shy, goes off in search of this stone with the help of her friend Yishan. Along the way she encounters many unexpected friends (and discovers many unexpected things about her friends), and finds her voice and and strength through stories.

Stories have power–they give a voice to the silenced, and they reveal injustices committed by those in control.  When the Sea Turned to Silver is at its heart a celebration of storytellers and their ability to change the world. Beautifully complex characters (I love how Pinmei feels pangs of pity even for terrible emperor) and enchanting tales woven throughout give the book wings. There is so much to ponder here about the world we live in and how we can use our voices to speak up to authority, to change narratives, to reveal the truth.

Available October 4th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers!

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Diverse Book Night at Avid Bookshop

A group of parents approached us at Avid Bookshop, wanting suggestions for books that featured children of color that weren’t “issue” books–essentially, they wanted books for their children to read and enjoy and get lost in that just happened to star a kid who looks like them.  We ended up planning a little event at Avid, and it went so well, I can’t wait to do more! Below are a few of my favorites that I shared.

Little You

by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett


This one’s a tiny board book, but it packs a big, beautiful, poignant punch. I actually just shared this one with a customer today, who began tearing up as she read it. (She bought it immediately). Van Camp’s loving lullaby is a celebration of joy and wonder babies inspire in their parents, and it remains well outside of the mawkish territory these paean-type books can venture into. Flett is one of my favorite illustrators working today–her art is stunningly spare yet sophisticated here, and allows the unique affection found in the parent-child bond to shine through with warmth and serenity. Both Van Camp and Flett are of Native/First Nations heritage–Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation, and Flett is Cree-Métis.

Ages 0-3.

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One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel


This is one of my new favorite books to read aloud–I used it for storytime, and it was a HIT. A hilarious take on There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, this book features an upbeat, resourceful little boy who is swallowed by a snake (gasp!), and while inside the snake, convinces it to eat more and more creatures until, well, you know–out they go. The rhythm of Bernstrom’s text is infectious, and Wenzel’s illustrations are vibrant, playful, and spectacularly expressive.

Ages 4-8.

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Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle

by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin


This remains one of my favorite informational picture books. I love Paul’s lyrical poem and how it streams seamlessly throughout the book and how the page turns are oh so perfectly timed. I love how Chin’s fine attention to detail creates a world and characters that seem so real they could jump out of the book. His watercolor illustrations hint at a deeper story about childhood and family and friendship that flows underneath the information about the water cycle. And the back matter is superb: clear, concise, and seriously engaging.

Ages 5 & up.

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BookPair: The Refugee’s Journey

It might be easy for us in the United States to ignore the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, but according to the UNHCR, there are almost 20 million refugees worldwide, with a total of almost 60 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. From Syria alone, there are nearly 5 million registered refugees–more than half of whom are children. And even right here in the United States, thousands of refugees (most of whom are women and children) are fleeing extreme violence in the “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Honduras.

What does it feel like to have to leave everything behind? To know that you might never see the land or people you know and love again? It’s hard for most of us to imagine. The thought of anyone, especially children, being uprooted by the violence of war and unrest, is a harrowing one. But it is happening all around the world.

There are at least two picture books coming out this fall that address the dilemmas refugees face during their journeys in the most kid-perfect way. For many kids, these books will help them begin to understand what it means to be a refugee. Those kids who have experienced forced migration might find in these books the comfort that they are not alone; that someone is listening to their story.

The Journey

by Francesca Sanna


Oh, my. This book. What a beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful, necessary book. A young refugee’s view of their world as it descends into the darkness and loss of war and then into a journey across unknown lands and waters to seek safety, The Journey is ultimately a superbly-done, empathic tale of the plights of too many people in our world right now. The fairy tale-like setting and touches of the fantastical makes a deeply serious story resonate at just the right tone for young readers, and Sanna’s richly detailed art is haunting and graceful, a perfect complement to her poetically moving text. Every child, every adult, should read this book, immediately.

Ages 4 & up.

Out September 13th!

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by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley


Teacup is a lyrical, diaphanous tale of the refugee’s journey–it evokes the loneliness, anxiety, and sadness of leaving everything you know behind to begin anew, tinged with a silver lining of hope for that “speck on the horizon.” Ottley’s textured, breathtaking oil paint illustrations are both incredibly realistic (those clouds!) and beautifully dreamlike, adding gentleness and whimsy to this subtly-told story. Young’s minimal text allows the reader’s imagination to run wild, and unfolds the drama at a perfect pace. Teacup is a book to linger over, appreciating the beauty to be found in the persistence and strength it takes to grow a new life in an unfamiliar place.

Ages 4 & up.

Out October 4th!

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  • If you’re looking for more ways to explore this topic with kids, check out The Guardian’s great teaching resource here.
  • If you’d like to donate to help refugee children, consider an organization like Save the Children or the International Rescue Committee.


Good Deeds, Good Friends


If only we could all look at the world the way Kate DiCamillo does–she finds beauty and wonder in even the minutest and mundane of details, and her books resonate with readers for this very reason. I’m so, so glad that Raymie Nightingale, her latest middle grade novel, is out in the world for others to hold and read and love.

My Review

Friendship, like bravery, can make its appearance at the most unexpected times. Kate DiCamillo’s new yarn is one to treasure–light and jocular on the surface, RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE belies a deeper, truer, more aching heart than at first it might seem, beating its broken rhythm with absent parents, poverty, and loss. Raymie, our spunky heroine, finds friendship among two girls who are battling the familiar childhood foes of loneliness and powerlessness. These “Three Rancheros” together light the way through their individual struggles, their solidarity aglow like Florence Nightingale’s lamp or Mrs. Sylvester’s sunlit jar of candy corn, rescuing each other from the darkness. DiCamillo has a magic way of noticing all the little nuances who make us what we are, creating characters that are equal parts weird and relatable, and her skillful intertwinement of humorous and heavy weaves pure poetry out of the ordinary. This book is one huge good deed destined to become a classic.

Out now!

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More Raving about Raymie

Check out Matthew Winner’s wonderful conversation with Kate DiCamillo on his All The Wonders Podcast! It’s 38 minutes that I guarantee will improve your day.

I like that NPR spotlights children’s literature so often–and they interviewed Kate DiCamillo a couple of days ago on All Things Considered. “It takes a lot of bravery to be kind,” indeed.

Trips, Time Traveling

are we there yet.jpeg

Dan Santat gets kids. And his picture books tap into the fantastic magic that fuels kids’ brains in hilarious, genius ways. Beekle showed how loneliness and imagination, woven together, can unite two unlikely friends. Santat’s new book, Are We There Yet?, stirs together that marvelous combination of boredom and imagination into what might be the most innovative book of the year. See my review below for why I love this book so much!

Psst, for all of you kids or “kids” in Athens, GA (or within driving distance)–Dan Santat will be HERE tomorrow (April 12th)–the very day his new book arrives into the world! Avid Bookshop is doing a pajama storytime in the evening–it should be a perfect escape from the supposedly terrible weather we will be getting. I’m trying to play it cool, but let’s face it–I AM SO EXCITED!

My Review

Time, when you are a kid, seems to move at an extended pace. Especially when you are bored. Especially when you are bored on a road trip. Santat’s genius new book plays with this concept the least boring way possible. A boy is on a road trip with his parents to his grandmother’s birthday party, a trip that begins to feel “like a million years”…. into the past. The boy’s imagination takes his family car through pirate ships and knight jousts and roaming dinosaurs until… ZOOM, they’re in a futuristic city with QR-speaking, picture-taking robots (yes, the QR codes are scannable) and.. WHOOSH, back to the present day, where the message, “there’s no greater gift than the present” really takes on a new meaning.

But wait, was this really all just in the boy’s head?

This is such a fun read for all ages that really plays with the picture book format in crazy (and crazy fun) ways–there are orientation changes that help the reader feel the jolt of the time shifts, embedded technology, comic-style paneling, and of course, Santat’s glorious, playful, rich illustration style. I guarantee you will want to read this book over and over (while turning it over and over), enjoying the weird, wonderful ride each time.

Ages 4-8.

Out tomorrow (April 12th)!

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