Readers don’t need to have been recently emancipated to understand this eloquent testament to the overriding importance of...

FREEDOM'S SCHOOL

Emancipation means education.

A little girl narrates her family’s story in the days and months immediately after the end of slavery. Her parents decide that she and her brother must attend school in spite of the dangers they face walking there. The school does not have very much in the way of supplies or heat, but it does have a teacher “with skin as brown as mine,” says the girl. Students come and go depending on when they are needed in the field. Then racism strikes, and the school burns down. Still, the community spirit is strong, and the African-American neighbors come together to rebuild. Cline-Ransome does not give a specific locale for the story, thus making it representative of much of the rural South after the Civil War. Telling the story in the voice of a child helps to make the story more immediate and should help young readers appreciate the difficulties involved in building, maintaining and attending school. Ransome’s watercolor paintings are richly evocative of the seasons while also creating memorable characters and emotions. The endpapers depicting a blackboard with upper- and lowercase letters written in chalk are a child-friendly touch.

Readers don’t need to have been recently emancipated to understand this eloquent testament to the overriding importance of school. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4231-6103-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Disney-Jump at the Sun

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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This reimagined telling has an engaging charm that rings true.

KAFKA AND THE DOLL

An imagining of an unlikely real-life episode in the life of absurdist Franz Kafka.

Theule follows the outline of the account: When Kafka meets an unhappy girl in a Berlin park in 1923 and learns her doll is lost, Kafka writes a series of letters from Soupsy, the doll, to Irma, the girl. The real letters and the girl’s identity have been lost to history; the invented letters describe a dazzling variety of adventures for Soupsy. Unfortunately, as the letters increase in excitement, Kafka’s health declines (he would die of tuberculosis in June 1924), and he must find a way to end Soupsy’s adventures in a positive way. In an author’s note, readers learn that Kafka chose to write that Soupsy was getting married. Theule instead opts to send the doll on an Antarctic expedition. Irma gets the message that she can do anything, and the final image shows her riding a camel, a copy of Metamorphosis peeking from a satchel. While kids may not care about Kafka, the short relationship between the writer and the little girl will keep their interest. Realizing that an adult can care so much about a child met in the park is empowering. The stylized illustrations, especially those set in the chilly Berlin fall, resemble woodcuts with a German expressionist look. The doll’s adventures look a little sweeter, with more red and blue added to the brown palette of the German scenes. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.5-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 23% of actual size.)

This reimagined telling has an engaging charm that rings true. (biographical note, bibliography) (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11632-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A visually striking, compelling recollection.

FROM THE TOPS OF THE TREES

The author recounts a formative childhood experience that continues to inspire her today.

Born to Hmong refugees, Kalia has only ever known the confines of the Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand. Even while playing with her cousins, reminders of the hardships of their life are always present. She overhears the aunties sharing their uncertainty and fear of the future. They are a people with no home country and are still trying to find peace. Kalia asks her father why they live behind a gate and wonders what lies beyond the fences that surround the camp. The next day they climb a tall tree, and he shows her the vast expanse around them, from familiar camp landmarks to distant mountains “where the sky meets earth.” This story of resilience and generational hope is told in an expressive, straightforward narrative style. The simplicity of the text adds a level of poignancy that moves readers to reflection. The layered and heavily textured illustrations complement the text while highlighting the humanity of the refugees and providing a quiet dignity to camp life. The militarylike color palette of olive greens, golden yellows, and rich browns reinforces the guarded atmosphere but also represents the transitional period from winter to spring, a time ripe with anticipation and promise.

A visually striking, compelling recollection. (author's note, glossary, map.) (Picture book/memoir. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5415-8130-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Just a bit of well-armed fun, more suitable formatwise for a gift than classroom or library shelves.

MAISY'S CASTLE

A relatively sturdy pullout castle with a die-cut drawbridge and a dragon in the cellar serves as playscape for punch-out figures of medieval Maisy and her friends.

The dramatic main event follows a perfunctory scenario in which Maisy welcomes “Sir Charley” the crocodile and others to a bit of archery practice, then dons armor to win a friendly joust “by one point.” Even toddlers-at-arms (with minimal assistance from a yeoparent) can follow the easy instructions to set up the castle and brace it. The card-stock punch-outs include four characters in period dress, two rideable destriers and, oddly, a cannon. These can be stored in an accompanying pocket when not in use—or even dispensed with entirely, as the castle is not only festooned with busy guards and other residents, but there is lots of (literal) monkey business going on. Along with sending Maisy further from her customary domestic settings than usual, this outing features a possibly discomfiting quantity of weaponry—none seen actually in use, but still adding an unusually martial note to a series that generally promotes more peaceful pursuits.

Just a bit of well-armed fun, more suitable formatwise for a gift than classroom or library shelves. (Novelty. 5-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7438-0

Page Count: 10

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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