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Wangari's Trees of Peace is the inspiring true story of a woman who faced the destruction of her country's natural environment and decided to do something about it herself, and in the process empowered many of her fellow Kenyans to care for their own land.

Wangari faced many obstacles, and her work was slow going at times, but after decades of work, the movement she started has re-planted millions of trees and helped to enrich the environment and people's lives. Her story is definitely a valuable one to introduce children to -- one caveat is that one of the obstacles depicted in this particular book is Wangari being assaulted by a law enforcement officer, which parents/teachers might like to be aware of before reading. Otherwise, the text and illustrations are quite accessible to young children.

Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in sustainable development, human rights, and peace.

Format: Hardcover
Author/Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: One scene shows Wangari being hit by a law enforcement officer, which may be disturbing for some children.

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If all the world were springtime
I would replant my grandad's birthdays
So that he would never get old.

If All the World Were... is a beautifully illustrated poem about a girl's relationship with her grandfather, encompassing both her joy as she spends time with him, and her sadness at his eventual passing.

Tracing life through the seasons of one year, the story finds beauty in simplicity, the small joys of simply being together and doing things. Without using a lot of words, it communicates love and memories, each memory represented by a small token that relates to the day they spent together.

This one got me a little teary -- it's very sweet and even in the sadness, celebrates the joy of good memories. The colors in the illustrations are also lovely.

(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)

Format: Kindle
Author: Joseph Coelho
Illustrator: Allison Colpoys
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: Obviously, this book deals with loss and is sad (but also happy). No specifics the illness/dying process are mentioned.

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Grandad Mandela serves as a wonderful introduction to the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, who brought an end to racial apartheid while president of South Africa. 

The book is written as a conversation between the book's author, Zindzi Mandela, who is Nelson Mandela's daughter, and her two grandchildren, Zazi and Ziwelene. While the conversation primarily serves to structure the narrative, it also brings a sense of familial connection and pride to Mandela's story.

In order to adequately cover the major events of Mandela's life, the story also explains important concepts from that time and place that might not make as much sense to children these days, such as apartheid, justice (especially as it related to apartheid), and the African principle of "Ubuntu" -- treating others as we would want to be treated, and in Mandela's case, forgiving his enemies in order to work with them for the betterment of the entire country.

In addition to the thorough (without being too wordy) and important story, the illustrations here are wonderful -- they capture the view of Mandela as a single, important person, but also his fight for justice and the way it encompassed an entire country -- and the colors are wonderful too.

This is a great way for children to learn about an important historical figure, and for those of us who are older, it can serve as a jumping-off point for further reading.

(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)

Format: Kindle
Author: Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Pages: 40
Content Advisory: Very little is actually said of violence ("fight" is generally used as a more theoretical term, implying the general fight for justice), but there is one scene that depicts two white policeman with sticks raised over two black people who are on the ground -- no blood, but it gives a visual of the racial dominance that was upheld under apartheid. There is mention of Mandela's long prison term, and how difficult it was to keep his spirits up.

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I decided that a blurb in my 2017 round-up post did not do The Phantom Tollbooth justice, so I'm writing up an expanded review all of its own.

I'd heard of this book for a while before reading it, but the title led me to assume it was some kind of ghost story. It's not -- it's basically a geek's paradise -- full of word play, fun with mathematics, etc. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if music had colors -- like if an orchestra played the sunrise? Or what it would be like to collect sounds, or eat letters? Or what a world without sound would be like? (At times this is basically "Synesthesia: The Novel.") 

The story revolves around a boy named Milo who is simply bored and lethargic all the time. But when he receives a strange tollbooth in a box, he finds a portal to a land full of interesting places and eccentric characters -- for example, there's a witch who's actually a "Which," a "Whether Man," a Mathemagician, as well as King Azaz the Unabridged, all with something to teach him about the value of learning and curiosity. 

It's a very fun story, especially the parts that involve word play and puns (which is why I'd much rather read the book myself than have it read to me, and imagine it could be more fun for children to read on their own as well). I suppose this is a book about learning, but also something about how to be wise, or how not to be ignorant, or how/why to pay attention to all that's around you -- in a way it's about educating yourself, but without all the heavy-handed "educational" stuffiness. 

Format: Paperback
Author: Norton Juster
Pages: 256
Content Advisory: There are a few scenes of peril, especially toward the end.

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I really loved the illustrations in Francesca Sanna's The Journey (which I included in my list of picture books featuring refugees). So when I saw she had a sequel out, I jumped at the chance to read it. 

In a way, Me and My Fear picks up where the previous book leaves off -- a girl and her mother and siblings have fled a land of war (there are no national identifiers here in order to apply to the broader refugee experience). Here, she is trying to adjust to a new location where she is unfamiliar with the language and customs of the children around her. But she has a little friend who helps to protect her -- Fear. 

I like that fear is occasionally portrayed in a positive light -- able to provide some services that are good, and not as something that has to simply be eradicated from a person's life. But this girl's Fear friend soon grows so large that it keeps her from doing a lot of things. It causes her to feel lonely, anxious, and to engage in negative self-talk.

This is also an interesting picture, as Fear is at once an essential part of the girl, but also something outside of her that she has to contend with when their desires are at odds. I thought the allegory was well done, and portrays this often tempestuous relationship in a believable way. 

In the end, one thing that helps the girl to deal with her fear is to recognize that, contrary to what Fear tells her, she is actually not alone -- the children around her all have Fear friends as well, even if they're often smaller than hers. This contrast between loneliness and solidarity was also helpful in understanding fears. I think this book could be very helpful, especially for anxious kids or adults, and even for those who are not trying to make the shift between cultures.

(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)

Format: Kindle
Author/Illustrator: Francesca Sanna
Pages: 40
Content Advisory: None

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