A visually stunning work addressing themes of peace, generosity, and forgiveness.

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A Wolf at the Gate

Van Steenwyk (The Unkingdom of God, 2013, etc.) offers an illustrated chapter book about an angry red wolf who encounters a saintly beggar king.

The Red Wolf is born into a pack that lives deep in the woods outside of the town of Stonebriar. Her parents raise her with tales of the history of her kind, the Lords of the Forest, who have slowly ceded their territory to the growth of human settlement. They also teach her the necessity of never taking more food than necessary and sharing what she has with others. The Red Wolf grows up angry; eventually, her parents die, and she loses her pack before becoming the rage-fueled Blood Wolf that haunts the dreams of Stonebriar’s residents. It takes the appearance of the Beggar King, a man of peace who holds the respect of both the townsfolk and the forest animals, to calm the Red Wolf’s anger and teach her to live in harmony with her neighbors. The Red Wolf then takes these lessons and uses them to solve a problem: a band of outlaws lives in her woods and terrorizes the surrounding towns. She must decide whether there are better solutions to cruelty than violence and whether such solutions are practical in a world short on sympathy. The story is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio; though rooted in Christian tradition, the book contains no overt religiosity, and secular parents should feel comfortable recommending it to their children. Van Steenwyk writes in sharp, muscular prose highly suitable for the fabulistic subject matter, deftly navigating both the darker and lighter segments of the story. The true standouts of the book, however, are the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom. Taking Japanese woodblock printing and Greek vases as his inspiration, Hedstrom supplements the text with full-page illustrations in brilliant colors that feel simultaneously ancient and stylishly contemporary. The result is a book out of time: a coupling of narrative and illustration that should stoke the imagination of any young modern reader.

A visually stunning work addressing themes of peace, generosity, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: March 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-0986233302

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Mennonite Worker Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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LAST DAY BLUES

From the Mrs. Hartwell's Classroom Adventures series

One more myth dispelled for all the students who believe that their teachers live in their classrooms. During the last week of school, Mrs. Hartwell and her students reflect on the things they will miss, while also looking forward to the fun that summer will bring. The kids want to cheer up their teacher, whom they imagine will be crying over lesson plans and missing them all summer long. But what gift will cheer her up? Numerous ideas are rejected, until Eddie comes up with the perfect plan. They all cooperate to create a rhyming ode to the school year and their teacher. Love’s renderings of the children are realistic, portraying the diversity of modern-day classrooms, from dress and expression to gender and skin color. She perfectly captures the emotional trauma the students imagine their teachers will go through as they leave for the summer. Her final illustration hysterically shatters that myth, and will have every teacher cheering aloud. What a perfect end to the school year. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58089-046-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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