Review: Library Lion

If you’re a book lover, you probably already know that few things are more delightful than visiting the library and coming home with more books… and even books about books. Hopefully you know some children who feel the same way, and they are sure to find a friend in Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

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One day a lion strolls casually into the library and makes himself at home. At first the staff and patrons show concern, but as there are no rules against lions in the library, he is permitted to stay. When story time is over he lets out a roar of disapproval and, having broken the rule to keep quiet in the library, it looks as though he will have to leave. Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is a stickler for the rules. But the children intervene on his behalf, and Lion is allowed to return so long as he observes the rule to keep quiet. He soon becomes indispensable, performing many helpful duties about the library (much to the annoyance of Mr. McBee at the circulation desk). At last one day, in a very good cause, the lion roars again… and knows that he must leave forever. Will the library ever be the same without him? Who could entreat him to return? And can the rules be disregarded under very special circumstances?

This sweet story is well-paced and smooth to read, with a thoroughly pleasant conclusion. The words themselves are as quiet as a librarian’s shoes, but the unfolding story gives readers two opportunities to ROAR! Who could resist? Even the tension building to the climax is gentle, so that the subtle changes in moods, relationships, and prejudices are easily perceived. In this story everyone has a place, and by the end each character readily embraces the good intentions and inherent value of the others.

In keeping with the nature of the story, Hawkes’ illustrations are likewise soft and a bit dreamy. His depictions of tidy stacks, the regal golden lion, and stereotypically prim library staff are most welcoming. The font is classic and printed in a soft brown, so the whole volume looks like the consummate picture book that it truly is.

This story is a sweet choice for sharing with your favorite lap-sized library pal. It is a little longer than is fashionable for newer children’s picture books; but every word builds the story, and the story is so engaging that it can help to stretch young attention spans too. For youngsters who already love to be read to it is a perfect choice.

With the beautiful page design at which Candlewick Press excels, Library Lion would also make a beautiful gift for any child or library. Donate a copy to a day care center or to the children next door. Book by book, everyone can help to support a culture of reading.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: The Library, written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small

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Review: The Forever Garden

April showers have finally given way to May flowers; and like food and friendship and other good things, flowers are meant to be shared. Discover the lifegiving legacy that a simple garden can bestow with The Forever Garden, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Samantha Cotterill.

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A cheerful, eccentric lady named Honey is devoted to her garden, and tends it in all weathers. The girl next door does not always see what Honey sees in the garden, but she likes to visit and work alongside her neighbor and friend. Honey shares the garden’s bounty with the girl and her mother: fresh veggies, eggs, and “bouquets of funny things.” They enjoy meals and warm evenings together, until Honey suddenly puts her house up for sale.

Heartbroken, Honey’s young friend does not understand how she can leave her garden, and wonders why she continues to plant berries that she will not be there to harvest. Honey reminds her that a garden belongs to no single person, but that as each gardener enjoys the fruits that were planted by others, so the seeds each person plants are for others to enjoy in later seasons. When a new family moves into Honey’s old home, they find a new friend next door, ready to help them with the garden.

Based loosely on a tale from the Talmud, this charming modern story calls attention not only to the physical and emotional sustenance that a garden gives, but to the relationships that it nurtures as well. Neighborliness is sometimes hard to come by in the age of air-conditioning, supermarkets, and social media; but Honey proves how valuable one kindly example can be. She lavishes attention on her tidy little plantings, but also on the lonely little girl next to her. She teaches her about gardening and about life, about humble self-sufficiency and reaching out to others. Her story is a celebration of hard work and homegrown abundance, of simple joys and time well spent, of appreciation for the past and hope for the future, and of friendship across fences and generations.

The Forever Garden is beautifully told. Readers will recognize the sights, sounds, and tastes in the garden; and also the feelings that go with losing and making friends. The pictures are colorful and sweet, bringing the wisdom of this ancient tale to our own neighborhoods. It would be particularly special for a child under the age of ten to read this with a grandparent, neighbor, or friend.

Such seeds, once planted, will surely prosper.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Whose Garden Is It? written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Jane Dyer (This title is sadly out of print, but is well worth requesting from your local library.)

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Review: A World Full of Animal Stories

Usually I like to review a series at the beginning of each month, but this time I want to share a collection of stories all in one bright volume. Since Christmas my children and I have enjoyed delving into A World Full of Animal Stories: 50 Folktales and Legends written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Aitch.

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I love folk stories; they show us how to respect what is different and celebrate what is the same about other peoples and places. This book is like a treasure chest. The tales are organized according to their continent of origin (Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Oceania) and then each is identified more specifically by the modern country or tribe from which it came (Ghana, Brazil, Lakota, et cetera). The range of donor nations could always be broader, and I would like to have seen a fuller representation from South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East; but there is a good mix of cultures included that will certainly encourage young readers to stretch their minds around the globe.

The stories are told in the traditional spirit; most are witty moral fables or cautionary tales that encourage cleverness and punish pride. In most of the tales the animals can talk; in some they interact with humans and in others they deal only with each other. There is an emotive blend of humor and tragedy, wit and foolishness, lessons learned and opportunities lost. The result is a story for every mood and a universal reflection of this life we all live.

Each story is tightly packed on one to three pages, and can generally be read within ten minutes. They are well-written and expressive, paced to build the climax without giving the story away. Along with “The Ugly Duckling” and one or two other tales that are well known in the United States, children meet the fabled West African trickster Ananse, a Bear Prince and a horse named Dapplegrim. With titles like “Why the Warthog is Ugly” and “The Owl of Cowlyd Coomb” it is undeniably hard to stop at just one.

If I have a complaint about this book, it concerns the ratio of pictures to text. The illustrations vary pleasingly in size and scale, and portray the stories with brilliance; I would only like to see more of them, and I suspect that little folks would also enjoy more images to enliven the words they’re hearing. But this does not detract from the stories or imply that they are boring; it’s simply that I could never get enough of these gorgeous pictures.

This treasury would make a thoughtful gift, as it can easily provide hours of quality reading for everyone: from toddlers first learning their animals to middle schoolers beginning to appreciate just how big the world is. I am also looking forward to finding a copy of McAllister’s other book: A Year Full of Stories: 52 Folk Tales and Legends from Around the World. This volume is illustrated by Christopher Corr, and appears to be just as tantalizingly vibrant as the animal stories.

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Happy reading!

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: National Geographic Kids Stories: HeartwarmingTrue Tales from the Animal Kingdom, written by Jane Yolen and her children, and illustrated by Jui Ishida

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