Bookshelf

Bookshelf
A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Listening to The Wind and the Trees


The Wind and the Trees by Canadian author/illustrator Todd Stewart is a deceptively simple story that conveys fundamental knowledge about the cycles of life and the interconnectedness of trees and their environment in a pitch-perfect synthesis of art and text.



The Wind and the Trees, written and illustrated by Todd Steward.
Published by Owl Kids Books in English in 2021.
Originally published as Quand le vent soufflé in 2019.


In 180 words (yes, I counted them!) Stewart tells the story of these relationships. In the beginning, one tree is mature and the other is a new seedling. By the end, much has changed, largely portrayed through an unspoken storyline provided by the illustrations.


Hello!/Hello.

The shape of clouds, movement of birds, bending of boughs, and slant of precipitation all express the impact of that invisible force, the wind. Vibrant, changing color palettes in double-page spreads add energy to the sparse conversation between the two trees, enlivening what might otherwise be a static story. 


Up here, the wind always blows, day and night, year after year.

Stewart’s restraint with words allows the illustrations to fully engage readers, while also leaving space to imagine and absorb. The tall trim size and orientation perfectly suit the topic.


So how do you feel about the wind?/I embrace it. Like this!

By the end, the reader is left feeling not only the poignancy of the life cycle for trees but for ourselves, too. In words, art, and design it is a beautiful story, beautifully told.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Who Lives Near a Glacier?

Glaciers are in the news, primarily because many are melting as a consequence of climate change. Susi Gregg Fowler, the author of a new picture book, Who Lives Near a Glacier: Alaska Animals in the Wild, and her husband, artist Jim Fowler, have teamed up to approach the topic of glaciers from a different viewpoint: that of the animals who live around or on glaciers.

Cover of picture book, Who Lives Near a Glacier? Mountain goats resting.


The text is unusual, too. The author, who has written nine previous books for children, is also a poet. She applies those skills to present information about creatures ranging from moose to ice worms using a variety of poetic forms, voices, and devices suited to their subjects. Take “Voles”, which begins:


“Eek! Squeak!

Scurry. Streak.

From lakeside up

to mountain peak.

Voles!”


Or “Wolves”:


“I’m a creature of myth

and mystery.The stories folks tell?

They’d scare even me.

Of course I’m wild.

I’m meant to be.”


The Fowlers are long-time residents of Juneau, in Southeast Alaska, an area abounding with glaciers and wildlife. Familiarity with their subjects shines through both the text and the illustrations, which integrate well with the poems. Rich, saturated colors and brush strokes convey a sense of movement and energy. The illustrations accurately portray animals and landscape while also expressing a feeling of expansiveness, just a little bit dreamlike.


Whale breaching

In addition to the information embedded within the poems, a brief note about each animal includes a few additional facts, a format that should attract the young naturalist looking for information, the young reader who loves words, and the young wordsmith who enjoys trying their hand at poetry. A double-page spread at the end, “How Are Glaciers Formed?”, offers insight into four types of glaciers and how they change over time.


Moose feeding

As a former school librarian, I can imagine using this book with students in several ways. First, simply as an enjoyable reading experience, either out loud or for personal pleasure. The book also offers an enticing opportunity to teach poetry through wildlife, and conversely, wildlife (and glaciers and ecology) through poetry. Either way, Who Lives Near a Glacier?, is an informative springboard to exploring the world outdoors, as well as the language we use to describe it.


My only regret is that the book is currently available only in paperback. Perhaps the publishers will consider a hardcover edition for the school and library market.


Who Lives Near a Glacier? Alaska Animals in the Wild, written by Susi Gregg Fowler, illustrated by Jim Fowler. Published 2022 by Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town

Fairbanks writer Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s collection of short stories for young adults, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town, portrays the struggles her teen characters face and how their interactions with others — family, friends, strangers — help them develop new awareness and resilience. Published last spring by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, the stories are set during the 1990s in small towns in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Alaska.



Hitchcock’s writing captures not only the physical details of these rural landscapes but the emotional tenor of daily life for teens. Typically, her characters and their lives are messy, a bit muddled, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes anguished. Both the girls and guys in these stories have a lot of heart, and ultimately, strength.


Issues range from grief over the loss of a parent, disappearance of a sibling, healing from sexual abuse, being gay in a conservative rural community, dealing with pressures to conform, sibling relationships, addiction, and more. Hitchcock handles these tough topics in gentle ways, by which I mean that descriptions are not graphic but focus on the emotional impact of trauma. Though difficult problems are addressed, Hitchcock’s characters portray the power of individuals and community to help themselves and each other heal.


One of my favorite stories — there are several — is "Basketball Town." Anyone who has lived in a small, rural community knows how important competitive sports can be. Hitchcock upends the usual focus on males in sport stories by writing about two girls, cousins who cope in their own ways with the intense expectations of others.


A pleasure of this collection is the interconnectedness that runs throughout the stories. Numerous characters appear more than once. Several locations are repeated. Likewise, a few plot elements reoccur — wildfire, an abusing priest, a renegade radio personality.


Readers expecting to have all these pieces tied up into a single narrative, as in Hitchcock’s earlier novel for young adults, The Smell of Other People’s Houses, may be disappointed. However, if taken for what it is, a gathering of stories about rural teens dealing with life, those seemingly random or loose relationships underscore one of Hitchcock’s major themes: that we humans are connected more than we realize — and how we treat each other makes a difference. That's a theme that feels more vital than ever right now.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

At World Kid Lit I found an exceptional book from Sweden by author/illustrator Sara Lundberg. Fågeln i mig flyger vart den vill tells the story of Berta Hansson, a female artist  well-known in Sweden. It won Sweden’s August Prize in 2017 and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway award in 2021.


Cover illustration for Fågeln i mig flyger vart den vill  by Sara Lundberg. Published by Bokförlaget Mirando,  Stockholm, Sweden.
Cover illustration for Fågeln i mig flyger vart den vill
by Sara Lundberg. Published by Bokförlaget Mirando, 
Stockholm, Sweden.

B.J. Epstein translated it into two English versions: the UK title is The Bird Within Me, published by Book Island; the North American edition, published by House of Anansi Press, reads The Bird in Me Flies.

What’s so special about this book? For one thing, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The full-color art throughout its 120 pages is beautifully evocative and sometimes stunning. It’s a stellar example of picture books for older readers, not only because of the artwork but because the text is so engaging and skillfully integrated with the art. Every spread has a full-page painting; many are double-paged. The words nestle within all these images, immersing us, the readers, in Berta’s world. (Note: the images below do not include the text.)


Berta's father, sisters, and brother don't understand her need to create art.
Berta's father, sisters, and brother don't understand
her need to create art.

The art is exceptionally well-attuned to the details of the story. Though described in cataloging as “biographical fiction,” it’s based on Berta Hansson’s diaries, letters, and paintings, with a biographical afterword by journalist Alexandra Sundqvist. Written in first-person free verse, each sentence is concise and necessary. The spareness of the text heightens the emotional impact of the story about a young farm girl in rural Sweden early in the 20th century. Times are hard, the chores are endless, and Berta’s mother suffers from incurable tuberculosis.


Berta makes art for her mother, who is ill in bed with tuberculosis, with hopes of helping Mama heal.
Berta makes art for her mother, who is ill in bed with tuberculosis,
with hopes of helping Mama heal.

Still Berta yearns to make art, both for herself and in hopes of helping to heal her mother, who supports Berta’s artistry.Her father, however, insists she is needed on the farm, especially after her beloved mother’s death.


Berta retreats to the forest for solace.
Berta retreats to the forest for solace.


This story of Berta’s struggle against grief and social expectations to pursue her calling as an artist is a poignant and inspirational tale aimed at middle grade readers. It’s also an example of splendid book-making, well worth reading at any age.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

World Kid Lit Month

I recently discovered World Kid Lit, a wonderful site for lovers of children’s books. It just so happens that September is World Kid Lit Month!


#WorldKidLitMonth


I highly recommend taking a peek at the blog, which focuses on books in translation. I love that books are searchable by age, language, country, region, and publisher — with over 80 languages represented.


Celebrate #WorldKidLitMonth
Read the world--Explore languages with books--Write a book review
Translate a poem--Get crafty--Broaden horizons

They have reviews, book lists, and resources for a variety of users, from schools and families to booksellers and publishers. Seriously, check it out!


Sunday, March 14, 2021

Gillnetter Girls

Gillnetter Girls by author/illustrator Mollie Ginther takes readers along for a summer of salmon fishing in Alaska with young Ani, Mama, and their seafaring feline, BB Cat. The picture book’s lively artwork captures details of daily adventures aboard their boat while fishing, visiting with fellow fisherfolk, and riding out storms, as well as explorations onshore as they pick berries, examine tide pools, and find treasures on the beach.


Gillnetter Girls by Mollie Ginther
Cover illustration

The text and the illustrations are as interesting as they are informational. Ginther’s drawings give her characters a feeling of energy and motion, with a variety of perspectives and unexpected details that draw the reader into each page. Illustrated insets on some pages provide extra information, such as the parts of a gillnet, or interesting details, one of my favorites being a warning pile of bear poo.


Gillnet with inset details
Gillnet with inset details

Several full-page pictures accurately depict specific animals or plants, such as species of salmon, seaweed and kelp, and jellyfish. The information presented throughout the book is never heavy-handed; it flows naturally from the text and art as the days roll by.


Seaweed and kelp illustrations
Seaweed and kelp illustrations

The text is appropriately spare for a picture book and doesn’t try to do too much. While the story is slight — a simple accumulation of small events during the summer’s fishing — because it begins and ends with a season it feels satisfyingly complete. The everyday experiences will be unique and of interest to most children and adults.


Setting out for a new season of fishing!
Setting out for a new season of fishing!

Ginther uses an attractive, narrow border to contain the activities of each day to their respective pages, as well as enough white space to give the illustrations plenty of fresh, open air. Text integrates clearly with the illustrations, which complement and extend the text.


Gillnetter Girls will leave readers with a new appreciation for a unique way of livelihood -- and feeling like they’ve been on a grand summer adventure!


A brief glossary is included. Of interest to ages 4 to 7. Published 2020 by Orange Hat Press.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Ten Past One, Please!

I have a request of the publishing universe: Would someone please translate and publish Ann-Helén Laestadius’s young adult novel Tio över ett into English?


Tio över ett/Ten Past One

I kept thinking that as I was reading the book in Swedish, its original language, after it came my way through a friend who had met the author. A year later, I still think about it. A story that sticks like that is a story with resonance.


The title translates as Ten Past One. That's the time Maja sets her clock for each night. She needs to be awake to make sure she and her family survive the nighttime blasting that occurs deep below ground in the enormous, state-owned LKAB mine beneath Kiruna. This actual mine in far northern Sweden, which has operated for over 120 years, is the largest iron ore mine in Europe and employs some 4,000 people. Unfortunately, the enormity of the mining activity is causing cracks at ground level that threaten the homes, roads, infrastructure, and safety of residents. Portions of the town are in the process of being moved or the families relocated to New Kiruna, several miles away.


Maja’s father, like so many residents of Kiruna, works in the mine. He earns a good living. But Maja suffers from increasing anxiety, mostly irrational but also not entirely unreasonable. She endures the typical stresses of adolescence — friendships, school and peer pressures, family disagreements, a serious crush — with an added layer of genuine fear about change and the potential for impending disaster.


The setting is intrinsically interesting but Maja’s voice gives life to the story. She is so emotionally vulnerable, so frank, and struggles so valiantly to find her way through her troubles, I couldn’t help but empathize. As she navigates the unwelcome changes around her, she comes to grips with realities of politics and economy, family and class differences, prejudice against the Sami, and her own power to be resilient.


 

There’s actually no need to take my word for it that the book is worth translating. In 2016, Tio över ett won the August Prize for Swedish children’s literature, as well as the Norrland Literature Prize in 2017. Laestadius, a journalist by trade, has written several YA novels and two picture books, Pimpelfiske (2018) (Ice Fishing) and Vinterkväll (2019) (Winter Evening) with illustrator Jessika Berglund. Her first adult novel, Stöld (Theft), has just been released.