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This Is Sadie is a really cute book about a girl with an active imagination. The lovely illustrations show us some of the things that she has been in her mind (mermaid, Mad Hatter, etc.), and some of her daily activities (reading, tree-climbing, pretending she has wings, etc.). Makes me miss being a kid! If there's one thing kids don't need to be taught, it's how to have an imagination, which is why this book feels like a celebration rather than a how-to.

(In compliance with FTC guidelines, I disclose that I received this book for free through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I was not required to write a positive review.)

Format: Board Book
Author: Sara O'Leary
Illustrator: Julie Morstad
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: None

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The topic of refugees is more important than ever. On World Refugee Day in 2017, the American Red Cross said that "there are more people displaced from their homes now than at any other point in recorded history." More than half of these many millions of refugees in the world are children. While the idea of millions of children being forced to flee their homes may not feel like a pleasant topic to bring up with children, it is also necessary to learn why and how to stand up for these vulnerable and valuable individuals. Here are some picture books that can help get that conversation started.


1. The Journey, by Francesca Sanna, was published in 2016. It's a beautifully illustrated story of a family that is forced to flee their home because of war. The story strives to be "neutral" in the sense of not portraying any particular region or ethnicity of the world, so while it is apropos to the current Syrian refugee crisis, it could be applicable to many other situations as well. There is also a fair amount of "allegory" in the story -- the guards are portrayed as giants, and "war" is simply visualized as dark hands reaching out to get the family. This mix of fantasy and reality may help children to visualize topics that would otherwise be too difficult, while also allowing parents/teachers to fill in information if they feel it's appropriate. The story may feel bleak, and while it isn't all tied up in a neat little bow at the end (which makes sense), the refugees look to the sky and see birds migrating, and this helps to give them hope that someday they will be safe and belong somewhere again.


2. Stepping Stones is a uniquely illustrated book -- its images are stone art created by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. While he has remained in his country, he says his heart is with the refugees who have fled. The text includes an Arabic translation of the English, so while the book obviously has ties to Syria and the Middle East, it still tells a story of fear, loss, and hope -- a refugee journey that has also happened in many places outside this context. It is amazing how simple "found" objects from the outdoors can be used to evoke such feeling. Full review here.


3. Unlike the previous books on this list, My Beautiful Birds specifically takes place in Syria. It tells the story of a boy who had to leave his pet birds behind when his family fled from violence. While his family adjusts to life in the refugee camp they end up in, he struggles and he misses his birds. But at the same time, he finds that birds can also help him to heal. This book is also uniquely illustrated, with images made from clay rather than painted or drawn. Like in The Journey, birds are used to symbolize hope and freedom.


4. From Far Away is a refugee story that goes beyond the story of leaving one home and finding another. It focuses primarily on what happens after -- the period of adjustment during which a young girl named Saoussan has to learn how to live in Canada after fleeing violence in Lebanon. She wants to belong, but everything is so strange and she doesn't understand the context of many things (such as Halloween decorations) or the unspoken social expectations that are unfamiliar to her. This is her story, told in first person (and aided by Robert Munsch), of how she learned to adjust to a new life at school with new teachers and classmates. Full review here.


5. Unlike the other books in this list, I'm New Here does not deal specifically with a "refugee story" of fleeing one's home, nor does it actually state that any of the characters introduced here are refugees. But I think it's an important book because it helps to erase the "distance" that often seems to exist between us here in the United States and the refugee stories we read in the news. Regardless of how or why these children arrived in the United States, they are introduced to their new classrooms and set about trying to adjust to a new language and culture in a place where they know no one. While there is little narrative here -- we are mostly given vignettes of each character's experiences interspersed together -- this first-person glimpse into the lives of newly arrived children from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia can help build empathy as we imagine what it would be like to not understand the words that those around us are saying -- to feel lost, and yet want very much to belong. As time goes on, these struggles give way to confidence for these children.

For more book recommendations relating to refugees, diversity, and other global cultural issues, see the book list (you can browse by theme) at I'm Your Neighbor.

Even though "bullying" is a hot topic these days, sometimes I find that I still view it in a caricatured way. When I hear that a book is about bullying, I instantly picture a masculine "backpack in a tree" sort of thing. But as we know, bullying does not have to involve a swirlie or cartoonish, overt, physical humiliation -- it can be more subtle and persistent, and that's the type that's portrayed in The Hundred Dresses.

Wanda Petronski, a Polish immigrant, is teased for wearing the same dress every day. When she says she has a hundred dresses, she is teased even more. Later on, the girls find out she was telling the truth, just not in the way that they had expected. The story focuses on Maddie, one of the girls in Wanda's class. Although she is not the primary instigator, she still stands by while her friend teases Wanda, and it isn't until Wanda moves away that she starts to feel bad about her passivity. I appreciated this bit of realism because I'm sure many of us can attest that it isn't until we look back on a situation that we can often see much more clearly how we were in the wrong. Many things feel just fine when we're in the middle of them.

That's what I think this story does so well -- not just in portraying some instances of bullying and evoking pity for the person bullied, but also showing one character's gradual realization that what she did was wrong, even though it didn't feel overtly bad or cruel at the time. Because of this, Maddie vows to be more vigilant in her treatment of others and to never "stand by and say nothing" again. She recognizes that this is a choice she will have to make again, and becomes far more aware of how she will respond to that choice in future situations.

Format: Paperback
Author: Eleanor Estes
Pages: 80
Content Advisory: Girls treat Wanda in a demeaning way.

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Confession: I've never been a big fan of Shakespeare. Hopefully I won't get my English degree revoked for saying that, but I didn't really encounter him much until college, and reading numerous lines of 400-year-old dialog full of words I didn't recognize just didn't excite me much. Of course, I still respect very much his contributions to the English language, but I suppose my interest in Shakespeare has been more historical than literary.

So I suppose the collection in Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare is perfect for people like me, or people who've never read Shakespeare at all, because it is basically his "greatest hits." (I know it says "for kids," but I imagine most readers will be teenagers or adults.)

There are some short snippets, some longer monologues, and some sonnets, but many recognizable pieces and lines can be found here -- from Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be," to Romeo and Juliet on the balcony, the three witches with their "Double, double toil and trouble," and "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Even aside from the major pieces, I was reminded of just how many phrases from Shakespeare are still around today, such as "mortal coil," "sound and fury," "the game is afoot," etc.

Each piece includes a list of its more unusual words/phrases after it, with definitions, which is very helpful. For those who would like more Shakespeare in their home but don't want to read entire plays, this is a great addition, and the illustrations are very nice too.

(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)

Format: Kindle
Author: William Shakespeare, Marguerite Tassi
Illustrator: Merce Lopez
Pages: 48
Content Advisory: None

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Winter has its perks, but as a resident of New England I am more than ready for spring by the time it finally gets here! Here are some picture books to help celebrate spring, or at least to usher in its approach.


"Every year Mom and I plant a rainbow." Planting a Rainbow is a simple description of how a flower garden takes shape during the spring. The narrator and their mother plant seeds, bulbs, and seedlings in red, orange, yellow, even green (ferns), blue, and purple. Lois Ehlert's colorful illustrations focus solely on the flowers and dirt, and show as they grow from tiny plants to full-fledged blooms -- a lovely and colorful celebration of new life during spring!


Rechenka's Eggs, by Patricia Polacco, is a sweet Russion story of Babushka, a skilled egg decorator, who saves an injured goose one day. When the goose accidentally destroys her decorated eggs she is upset, but she finds that "miracles" can happen as "Rechenka" the goose begins producing beautifully decorated eggs all on her own! The illustrations here are detailed and colorful, showing us a few aspects of Russian culture, and an even sweeter surprise for Babushka at the end. This also makes a great Easter story.


For those of us for whom spring just can't come quickly enough, And Then It's Spring, by Julie Fogliano, perfectly captures the waiting and wondering that happens every year -- we plant our seeds and it's still brown, brown, brown... we wonder, is it really going to come? But then it does! Erin Stead's lovely pastel colors capture both the browns that seem to last forever, and the greens that finally come at the end of all that waiting.


Speaking of waiting for spring, Spring for Sophie shows us this wondering and impatience from a child's perspective. Sophie keeps asking her parents how she will know when spring gets there. They tell her to use her senses to observe the changes: the squishiness of the ground, the sounds of the birds, the rain that falls which finally turns everything green, and then maybe at that point spring will finally be there. 


Old Bear, by Kevin Henkes, is a short book about a bear who hibernates through the winter and has a fantastical dream about every season -- from fall-colored fish to giant flowers in spring. But then at the end he waskes up to discover that it really is spring, and time for him to come out. Also by Kevin Henkes, see Egg for some more lovely spring pastel colors.

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