Through the Wardrobe by Lina Maslo: This book acquaints a new generation with C.S. Lewis and the experiences that shaped his beloved Narnian world. Lewis’ childhood imagination—fueled by books and heroic characters—influenced how he handled loss, hardship, wartime horrors, and career highs and lows. Maslo helps readers see parallels between Lewis’ own journey and Narnia’s “battles between good and evil, where one learns things like courage and love and forgiveness” and where a person’s worst moments shape his future. Endnotes highlight Lewis’ family, education, faith, marriage, career, and involvement in the wars and with the Inklings. (Ages 4-8)
The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor by Amy Alznauer: Alznauer paints a portrait of a girl whose fascination with strange birds influenced her life and stories. As a child, O’Connor wore special shoes for pigeon feet and always felt a bit like an odd bird herself. Early in her life, she lost her father. Then, at age 25, she learned she had lupus. Strange and dazzling birds colored O’Connor’s quiet and short-lived adulthood, shaping her writing and understanding of people’s attraction to oddities. Illustrator Ping Zhu’s first children’s book radiates with color and outsize people, objects, and fowl, spotlighting the “brightest, oddest bird you ever did see.” (Ages 4-8)
John Bunyan by Simonetta Carr: This latest installment of Christian Biographies for Young Readers introduces kids to John Bunyan, a simple tinker with little education who brings the gospel to common people. Bunyan penned most of his writings, including The Pilgrim’s Progress, during his more than 12 years of imprisonment for preaching independently of the Church of England. Children will gain an appreciation for God’s grace in Bunyan’s life and for the experiences that shaped his understanding of sin and the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection. (Ages 7-12)
Prairie Boy by Barb Rosenstock: Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural style reflected his childhood years spent soaking up spacious Wisconsin prairie landscapes and his attraction to shapes, angles, and grids. As a budding architect, Wright appreciated natural light; long, cozy hearths; rectangular lines; and uncluttered spaces. He veered from European-style houses, turning “the shapes he loved into America’s home,” and experimented with new ideas, even venturing into furniture and clothing. Illustrator Christopher Silas Neal adds visual appeal with shape-filled pages. The author’s note and pictures of some of Wright’s most famous works give readers a taste of his creativity. (Ages 7-10)
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Stories of the past
Four historical picture books
by Susan Olasky
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford: Poet Weatherford tells in a series of poems the true Job-like story of Henry Brown, a slave who shipped himself in a wooden box to freedom. Heart-wrenching details and evocative language power the narrative: “My parents, brothers, sisters, and I / Flung apart as if dandelion puffs.” Masters betray their promises to Brown, yet Weatherford shows his hope: “The good Lord anchored me and Nancy in the Word.” After a harrowing 27 hours, the box arrives at the train station in Philadelphia: “Hours pass, and no one greets me. I pray this crate will not be my coffin.”
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by G. Brian Karas: Longfellow’s poem begins: “Under a spreading chestnut tree / The village smithy stands.” Karas sets the poem in modern times with mixed-media illustrations depicting a blacksmith with a pickup truck. He wears modern eye protection. The illustrations highlight the poem’s themes: honest work, worship, and community. On three pages he’s at church. Others show him at his forge: “Week out, week in, from morn till night, / You can hear his bellows blow; / You can hear him swing his heavy sledge, / With measured beat and slow, / Like a sexton ringing the old kirk chimes / When the evening sun is low.”
A Ben of All Trades by Michael J. Rosen: Starting with snippets from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, Rosen imagines details and dialogue to depict the creative mind of young Ben Franklin. Though he’s at the age to become an apprentice, Ben gets bored doing one thing all day long. His father seeks out different trades for Ben: candle making, joining, boot making, and woodworking. He finally settles on printer—a perfect fit. Matt Tavares’ realistic illustrations show the world in which young Franklin grew up.
Jefferson Measures a Moose by Mara Rockliff: This book is about two things: Jefferson’s love of numbers and the French scientist Buffon, who believed Europe superior to America, especially when it came to the size of its animals. Jefferson heard Buffon’s bluster and wanted to prove him wrong. Illustrations in the style of Punch drawings capture the humor in Jefferson’s quest to find a large animal—a moose—to send to France. Could the moose change Buffon’s mind? Rockliff ends on this note: “Some people have a hard time saying ‘I was wrong.’ Some people would rather DIE. That’s what happened to Buffon.”
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Picture books for summertime imaginations
by Mary Jackson
The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan: All year long a quaint blue cottage on the bay sits unoccupied until a little girl and her family arrive in the summertime, filling the house with the smells of pancakes, bacon, and sunscreen. Each year, the girl boats, fishes, flies kites, and shelters from summer storms inside the little cottage. From a cozy window nook, she always whispers, “I miss you when I am away.” But one summer the girl never arrives, and subsequent years of neglect render the cottage “dimming to gray.” The story shows—with sensory detail and soft illustrations—that family traditions are often rediscovered and renewed. (Ages 4-8)
The Hike by Alison Farrell: Three children hike to the top of a mountain, making discoveries along the way. Wren meticulously documents their findings in a sketchbook while El writes poetry and Hattie uses the map to direct the trio when they get lost. The pages include flora and fauna labels that showcase a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life. The girls observe, taste, tire, freeze, rest, and trek home with a gorgeous sunset backdrop—all markings of a good hike. This book immerses readers in the woods and will likely encourage some budding outdoor enthusiasts. (Ages 3-9)
The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann: Ernestine experiences her first weekend camping trip with her aunt and cousin. Despite her preparedness, some parts prove stretching. A rigorous hike is much different than her walk to school. Sleeping in a tent is uncomfortable—and she misses her dad. But she also discovers banana slugs, scrumptious s’mores, and the beauty of nature. Double-page spreads of the lake, trees, mountains, and a vast, starry sky will inspire readers to start planning their next trip. Mann adds variety and texture with page layouts, line drawings, and speech bubbles. (Ages 3-7)
Sandcastle by Einat Tsarfati: A little girl sets out to make a sandcastle amid a crowded beach (and an amusing myriad of sunbathers). Her castle turns out so elaborate that it attracts kings and queens from around the world. They are initially impressed, especially because ice cream is served “any kind, any time.” Readers will be impressed, too: A cross-section view shows castle rooms with books, dinosaur bones, a sleeping dragon, and more. But troubles begin when the royal guests find sand in everything, and the castle erupts into a sandball fight. (Ages 4-7)