Review of Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

Journey Home

by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 247 pages.
Review written October 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Children’s Fiction

Wonderful! A sequel to the beautiful book Pax, which is about a boy and his fox, separated by the boy’s father and trying to reach each other despite perilous obstacles — and a war.

In Journey Home, the war is over, but devastation has been left behind. Among that devastation, Peter’s father was killed in the war. And for the wildlife, rivers and streams and a reservoir were polluted. The entire town where Peter had lived when his parents were alive was abandoned.

This is a sequel, and you should read Pax first. I will try not to give away what happens in the first book, but Peter and Pax are again on quests that make them encounter each other.

Pax has a family now, but humans are encroaching too near, and he wants to find them a new den. However, in his search, his most adventurous kit comes along, and they have to take a roundabout path because of more humans.

Peter has lost his family — his father died in the war, on top of the loss of his mother before the first book started. Vola sees him as family, but Peter has learned that it’s better not to love — you’ll only lose them and get hurt again. He goes off to join the Junior Water Warriors, who are spending the summer cleaning up the polluted rivers left behind by the war. Peter does not intend to come back.

But he didn’t expect to encounter Pax.

For awhile, I thought this book a little too bleak, but Sara Pennypacker pulls off a transformation in Peter’s heart with exactly the right touch — not too sentimental and not even too predictable or unbelievable. The result is a powerful and inspirational story of healing. Pax is even more firmly rooted in my heart than he was before.

If you didn’t catch Pax when the book was first published, you now have two books you really should read!

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Sun Flower Lion, by Kevin Henkes

Sun Flower Lion

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a brilliant book for very young children or very beginning readers. The language is simple. The pictures are simple. But it’s got patterns and a progression.

We’ve got four things – the sun, a flower, and a lion, that are all drawn with the same basic pattern. We’ve also got six chapters. Each chapter is just one spread or a spread-and-a-half.

Here are the words for the first chapter:

This is the sun.
Can you see it?

The sun is in the sky.
It is shining.
It is as bright as a flower.

In the next chapter, we meet the flower, and then the lion.

My favorite page is this one:

The lion runs home.
Can you see him?
No, you can’t.
He is running too fast.

And it all ends with him cozy and back with his family.

Amazing that Kevin Henkes can tell a satisfying story with so few words – and so few shapes.

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harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf, by Sam Wedelich

Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf

by Sam Wedelich

Scholastic Press, Spring 2021. 40 pages.
Review written March 8, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

In this book, Chicken Little, who is well known for leaping to conclusions, is knocked down by a wolf jogging by. It must be the Big, Bad Wolf! He’s certainly big anyway.

And when Chicken Little tells another chicken about it, the whole flock is all aflutter. What should their reaction be, fight or flight? And will either one work for a bunch of chickens?

While the flock is laying plans, Chicken Little decides to bravely investigate. She asks the wolf, “Are you bad?”

And the wolf answers:

Me? I don’t think so. I suppose we all have light and dark in us. . . but I try to make good choices if that’s what you mean.

It turns out that the wolf is a vegetarian, which made it hard for him to fit in with other wolves. After Chicken Little convinces the flock, they think of a way to make him feel at home.

It all adds up to a delightfully silly story about not jumping to conclusions and being willing to make others feel welcome.

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Review of Nesting, by Henry Cole

Nesting

by Henry Cole

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 36 pages.
Review written April 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

We’ve got this in picture books in our library, and the story is slightly fictionalized, but you can also think of this book as a child’s very first nonfiction book about robins.

The story is simple – a robin couple meets, builds a nest, lays eggs, and cares for them. The story is accompanied by Henry Cole’s lovely and detailed illustrations, mostly black and white, but with accents of robin’s egg blue.

There’s a bit of gentle drama in the middle:

Down below, a snake sees the robins’ nest. The snake is hungry, too, and climbs the apple tree.

The robins fight back! They dive and swoop!

They don’t give up until they drive the snake away.

We see the baby robins leave the nest and get ready to start their own home.

It’s simple science for young kids – and it’s soothing and peaceful to see a robin’s life cycle all laid out for you. Henry Cole’s wonderful art makes this book something special.

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Review of The Word for Friend, by Aidan Cassie

The Word for Friend

by Aidan Cassie

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written February 3, 2021, from a library book

This bright picture book tells about a young pangolin named Kemala who loves to talk. Her family moves to a new town and she’s looking forward to making friends.

But when she gets to her new school, all the children (animals) speak a different language. Kemala curls into a ball while they play.

Kemala is also good at cutting shadow pictures out of leaves with her sharp claws. She ends up making friends using this skill.

I enjoyed the way the author had the other animals speaking Esperanto in their speech bubbles. So it sounded like an authentic language, but every child who reads the book will understand Kemala finding the words strange.

It’s also fun how her new friend isn’t good at shadow pictures at first, but is willing to learn.

There’s information about Esperanto and about pangolins at the back.

A fun story about making new friends with some details that surprised me.

aidancassie.com
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Review of Three Little Kittens, by Barbara McClintock

Three Little Kittens

by Barbara McClintock

Scholastic Press, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written June 12, 2020, from a library book

This book really made me smile. It’s from the song “The Three Little Kittens,” and I think I love the book because I had a record of the song when I was a little girl and played it over and over.

The book uses pictures with speech bubbles to tell the story in the song. You couldn’t exactly sing at the pace of the book – since there’s plenty of extras – but all the lines are there.

The kittens are adorable and full of energy, and some mysteries are solved. Why did the kittens soil their mittens? Because the pie was hot, and they used the mittens to eat it and made a mess. When they wash the mittens, they also make a mess, but do clean it up.

And at the end when they smell a mouse close by? It turns out there’s plenty of pie for all, so they invite him to join them.

Maybe I mostly enjoyed this book because it makes me nostalgic, but the happy, exuberant kittens (and their messily eating pie with mittens) and their forbearing mother made me smile.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate
read by Danny DeVito

HarperCollins, 2020. 4 hours.
Review written July 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The One and Only Bob is a sequel to Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first book, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Because the first book had the characters fighting a bad situation, and I don’t want these beloved characters up against injustice again.

This time, though, they’re up against a hurricane. The little dog Bob, wonderfully voiced with attitude by Danny DeVito, was with his humans visiting Ivan at the zoo when a hurricane and then a tornado struck. Bob didn’t stay with the humans – in fact, he flew through the air. In the story that follows, Bob is involved both in rescuing other animals and in being rescued. He also does some coming to terms with his past.

I thought the summary of what went on in the first book went on a little long. Surely it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this book has read the earlier book. However, once it got past that, Bob’s a fun dog to hang out with. There’s a glossary of doggy terms at the front which have a very believably doggy attitude. The fact that Bob and Ivan used to watch the Weather Channel on Ivan’s little TV at the mall means that Bob believably knows quite a bit about hurricanes.

There were some coincidences, yes. But it all makes for a fun story, and it’s great to spend time again with Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and their humans. We root for resourceful, though small Bob as he takes on a hurricane.

katherineapplegate.com

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Review of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 314 pages.
Review written November 26, 2019, from a library book
2020 John Newbery Honor

This is a book of an old fox telling scary stories to a family of young foxes. One by one, the kits are too scared and leave the storytelling, until only one is left. The storyteller is correct – it’s worth staying to hear the end of the stories.

But these are truly scary stories – too scary for me! There’s an abusive fox-father in a really disturbing situation, and there’s the “yellow smell” that infects foxes so they go crazy and attack other foxes, spreading the “yellow smell.” We follow the stories of two young fox kits in particular who lose the protection of their mothers.

One story made me laugh, though – because the truly horrific villain of that story is – Beatrix Potter!

That’s right, it turns out that Beatrix liked to paint woodland creatures from life. We all knew that, right? Well, according to this author, after she’d finished her paintings for a story, she didn’t set the animal free. No, she’d kill it with ether, then skin it and eat the meat. She’d stuff the skin and keep the stuffed creature in her home. All that is truly horrific for a young fox trapped in a cage in her house who witnesses what happens to a rabbit she’s been painting. So when Beatrix begins painting the fox, she has reason to be afraid!

But I will never look at Beatrix Potter books the same way again!

This is a well-written book. And lots of kids love scary stories. I never happened to be one of them, but next time a kid asks me for a scary book, I have another option. And I was very glad I read all the way to the end.

Added note after learning this is a Newbery Honor book: I approve! The book really is well-crafted, and it’s distinctive and unusual. I still say it’s a better choice for kids who like scary stories than it would have been for me as a child. But I agree that it’s distinguished.

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Review of Penny and Her Sled

Penny and Her Sled

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 56 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 4, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 in Picture Books

Another Penny book by Kevin Henkes! Huzzah! These are all beginning chapter books with plenty of pictures and concerns that mirror those of other young mice or children.

In this one, Penny is waiting for snow because she can’t wait to use her new sled. But – Spoiler Alert! – she waits all winter and it does not come.

Now, there may not be too many parts of the country where this really happens, but I had a special connection to Penny, because the last winter I lived in the Seattle area, when I was five years old, the winter before our family moved to California – it didn’t snow at all except for briefly when I was supposed to be taking a nap but was instead looking out the window at the falling snow that was gone by the time I got to go outside.

You see how it traumatized me?

So I have nothing but sympathy for poor Penny, waiting and waiting for snow!

[Alas! I’m posting this with winter winding down — and this year in the DC area, very little snow has fallen. Would be a great choice here this year.]

Penny finds things to do with her sled while she’s waiting.

And eventually, Mama suggests Penny might wait for snowdrops instead of waiting for snow.

“What if the snowdrops are like the snow?” said Penny. “What if the snowdrops do not come up this year?”

“They will,” said Mama.

“That is what you said about the snow,” said Penny.

Mama was quiet for a moment.

“I remember a few years when it did not snow,” Mama said. “But I do not remember a year without snowdrops.”

I do love how Penny responds when the snowdrops finally do come up. She makes sure that her sled is involved.

This is great for beginning readers. There are five chapters and pictures on every page. And it talks about a universal concern – waiting.

KevinHenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller, by Kate Read

One Fox

A Counting Book Thriller

by Kate Read

Peachtree, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 9, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 in Picture Books

I always enjoy counting books. Nothing helps a kid learn numbers better. But it’s nice when the book adds a little something to make it more interesting than just the numbers. This “Counting Book Thriller” actually tells an exciting story.

It’s all simple – and will give little ones so much to talk about to tell the adult reader about all the subtext. You can even think of this as a wordless picture book – with numbers, though there are a few words. But the story is in the pictures.

The first numbers are:

One famished fox

Two sly eyes

Three plump hens

Four padding paws

Five snug eggs

Oh, but the pictures! There’s nothing routine about them.

I’m going to save this book for a preschool storytime. You want the kids to be interested in the counting and also be able to infer what the famished fox wants with those plump hens.

There is a surprise ending, and a note at the book reassures us: “No hens or foxes were harmed in the making of this book.”

kateread.co.uk
peachtree-online.com

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