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Reading menagerie

Four picture books about animals

A Father’s Love

Hannah Holt

In this rhyming book for young children, Holt focuses on animals where the father plays a role in raising the young. She includes penguins, foxes, marmosets, lions, toads, sea horses, falcons, wolves, and emus. In each case she highlights the breadth and quality of a father’s love. The father fox “keeps them safe by digging chutes. This father’s love runs deep as roots.” The lion cub “charges Dad with baby claws. This father’s love has velvet paws.” The book ends with images of human dads holding their babies: “Kids fall asleep with fingers curled. A father’s love could hold the world.” (Ages 3-7)

Beware of the Crocodile

Martin Jenkins

This nonfiction book about crocodiles reads like a storybook. Illustrations often stretch across two pages, leaving plenty of room to emphasize teeth. On one spread, we see the shadow of a huge croc waiting in the water for a creature to come close. “And then? Then there’ll be a sudden lunge and a tremendous SPLASH. And then? Oh, dear. What happens next is rather gruesome. In fact it’s so gruesome that we should skip the details.” That kind of humor and page-turning suspense coupled with lots of interesting information about crocodiles makes this a great book for the young nature lover or reluctant reader. (Ages 5-8)

Noah Builds an Ark

Kate Banks

A big storm is coming, and a boy named Noah builds an ark in the backyard for small critters. First he removes the wheels from his red wagon and adds slatted sides, a roof, and a ramp. When he’s done, he calls in the animals: field mice, beetles, spiders, snakes, toads, and hummingbirds. When the rain falls, Noah is safe inside his house, and the critters are safe in the ark. Finally, the rain stops. A rainbow arcs across the sky. Noah and his dad say hallelujah. Pencil-and-watercolor illustrations give life to this reenactment of the Biblical story. (Ages 3-7)


Nicola Davies

This lovely book tells of the heroic journey of tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds, which migrate 2,000 miles each spring. Davies includes factual information in story form. A granny and her granddaughter feed the hummingbirds that flutter around them. The little girl is moving north, and so are the birds. The book traces the birds’ flight from Central America to New York, showing what they eat and where they nest. By late summer it’s time for them to make the long flight back. An index at the end helps young readers locate information. Lush watercolor illustrations decorate each page. (Ages 5-8)

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Children's Books

Roaming hearts

Tween and teen fiction books

Beast Rider 

Tony Johnston & María Elena Fontanot de Rhoads

Twelve-year-old Manuel Flores leaves his family’s small farm in Mexico and jumps aboard La Bestia, The Beast, a freight train running from southern Mexico to the U.S. border. Fraught with danger, The Beast carries many people escaping Central America to their deaths and others to American soil, including Toño, Manuel’s brother. While attempting to join Toño, Manuel faces robbery, harassment, and beatings, but he also finds caring people along the way. When he finally reaches Toño in Los Angeles, his world expands, yet he finds himself longing for home. Johnston’s gripping story gives a compelling street-level look at immigration realities. (Ages 12-15)

Pay Attention, Carter Jones 

Gary D. Schmidt

On the first day of sixth grade, Carter Jones is surprised to meet a portly Englishman at his front door. His name is Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, or the Butler, as the family comes to know him. Carter’s late paternal grandfather sent him to help the struggling family, which is still grieving the death of Carter’s younger brother, while Carter’s dad is away on deployment. The Butler begins to provide the family grounding, even teaching Carter and his friends to play cricket. Schmidt delicately weaves together humorous scenes of adolescence, school, and family life with deeper themes of betrayal and grief. (Ages 10-12)

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise 

Dan Gemeinhart

Ever since Coyote Sunrise’s mother and two sisters died in a car accident, she and her dad, Rodeo, have aimlessly driven around the country in a converted yellow school bus. But Coyote decides they must return home when a memory box she buried with her mother and sisters will soon be destroyed. On the journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a series of travelers with their own baggage, including a struggling musician, a mother and son escaping an abusive man, and a teenage girl whose parents banished her for being gay. Gemeinhart’s tale is raw and compelling, though sometimes forced, and occasional profanities don’t help. (Ages 12-15)

The Collectors

Jacqueline West

Van Markson differs from most 11-year-old boys because he is hard of hearing and relies on hearing aids. He also travels the world with his opera singer mother. But his world turns upside down when he meets a girl and a squirrel collecting coins—which are actually wishes—out of a fountain. This encounter leads to many more, revealing a hidden world where wishes, and cuddly-but-dangerous Wish Eaters, must be contained to prevent havoc. West’s fast-paced series opener is full of plot twists that gently compel young readers to think about whether getting what one wishes for is always beneficial. (Ages 8-12)

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Children's Books

Great expectations

Four recent picture books

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree

Jamie L.B. Deenihan

It’s a little girl’s birthday and Grandma is on the way. She’s hoping Grandma has brought a gift from her wish list (a fancy new electronic gizmo or gadget), but instead Grandma gives her a lemon tree. At first the girl feels disappointment, but as she cares for the tree her attitude changes: She sees its potential, and her entrepreneurial spirit comes alive. The real surprise happens when she chooses to use her earnings to buy “something you can really enjoy”—and the result is the transformation of an empty city lot into a beautiful garden for her neighbors. (Ages 4-8)

The Dress and the Girl

Camille Andros

Andros highlights the power of nostalgia through the story of an ordinary girl and her ordinary dress. The girl longs for something “singular, stunning, or sensational” to happen, but “life continued on in quite an ordinary fashion.” Until one day her family members pack their things, board a boat, and sail to America. Soon after their arrival, though, something happens that separates the dress from the girl. The years pass as they each live their own “everyday” story, but when their paths again cross, the ordinary becomes an extraordinary moment. Julie Morstad’s illustrations beautifully frame the story with warmth and detail. (Ages 4-8)

Lumber Jills

Alexandra Davis

When Britain entered World War II, the men headed to the front lines while the women found ways to serve at home. Thousands of young women joined the Women’s Timber Corps, swinging axes and heaving saws to keep the country supplied with lumber for planes, ships, newspapers, and more. Most of the “Lumber Jills” had never lifted an ax before, received only a month of training, and lived under extreme conditions while felling trees. Davis’ story highlights their pluck and determination, shedding light on the courageous spirit that carried the country through war. Katie Hickey’s delightful illustrations round out the story with colorful charm. (Ages 4-7)

When I Pray for You

Matthew Paul Turner

In When I Pray for You, Turner writes from the perspective of a parent praying over his or her child. Turner uses lyrical verse to share the hopes and concerns Christian parents may feel as they watch their children grow up: “I pray you love well. That the light in you swells. That the story God writes is the one that you tell.” Although written for children, parents may find the book’s message geared more for them: a gentle reminder to pray without ceasing for their children. Young readers will enjoy Kimberley Barnes’ colorful illustrations, which feature diverse children actively engaged in their world. (Ages 3-7)


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