Book review: On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Berne, Jennifer. On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson. Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Chronicle, 2020. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4521-4297-5. Ages 6-9. P8 Q8

Using butterflies as a motif for Dickinson’s thoughts and dreams, Stadtlander uses gouache and watercolor to complement her narrative of Emily’s inner experiences from her birth on a snowy day in western Massachusetts to her death in the same home. Some of Dickinson’s almost 800 poems are blended with the impressions of events in her life and her drive to find the answers to her questions about life that use nature as a background for her musings. Her search for truth combined with her hope, despite her religious school principal putting into the “No-Hopers,” … the group with hope. Later in life, Dickinson wrote the first stanza of a poem, “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers -/That perches in the soul -/And sings the tune without the words -/And never stops – at all -…” Dickinson jotted down her writings on scraps of paper throughout her life, a treasure trove that her sister, Vinnie, discovered after Dickinson’s early death at the age of 35. Endnotes discuss the poetry and ways to discover “the world of poetry.”

Verdict: Stadtlander’s illustrations blend fantasy and realism—Dickinson perched in a rose and watched by a bird, eyes that portray the turbulent sea in one pupil and the sun rising over mountains in the other, and a silhouette of the side of head filled with images which inspired Dickinson’s poetry. In the back notes, Berne discusses poetry and ways to read, write, and share it. As she wrote, “I dwell in possibility,” the reader can have the same experiences. [For a book about Dickinson’s early life, see Jane Yolen’s Emily Writes.]

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: How to Write a Story, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel

Messner, Kate. How to Write a Story. Illustrated by Mark Siegel. Chronicle Books, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9781452156668. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

How does one go about writing a book? Follow a child as they set out to teach you how to write a book, step by step. With each step, ideas are captured in colorful thinking bubbles. The main character puts all the ideas together to create a story. I especially like the part where the main character takes a rest and says, “stories need time to blossom and grow.” The final steps to writing a book include reading it to friends and choosing a captivating title. The large, colorful illustrations show racially diverse people. The steps to writing a book are in large blue font, setting them apart from the story. The format is successful and encourages one to come up with their own ideas to write a book. The illustrations were rendered in ink and watercolor.

Verdict: When my daughter was young, she wanted to be an author. I did not have a lot of guidance for her. This would have been the perfect book to help her get started. If you know of a budding author or a child who likes to write, this is the book for you. I can see adults and teachers using this book to teach children to write stories. I highly recommend this book.

April 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Plant Planet, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg

Scieszka, Jon. The Plant Planet! (Astro-Nuts series, book 1). Illustrated by Steven Weinberg. Chronicle Books, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781452171197. 213 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

If your reader likes Dog Man and Captain Underpants, they are sure to like Astro-Nuts! Four mutant animals who have been in hibernation are activated to explore the plant planet, a Goldilocks planet. Mount Rushmore is the Top-Secret NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) headquarters. Their top-secret ship, Thomas Jefferson Nose Rocket is inside Mt. Jefferson’s nose! The Astro-Nuts are super powered, but have not been tested. Follow AlphaWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and Stinkbug on their comical adventure that includes climate change, facts, and science, narrated from the Earth’s point of view. Some of the humor includes farts and boogers. The brightly colored illustrations are comic style and include graphs, reports, blue prints, plant cell structures and mathematical calculations. The graphic-hybrid design blends varied typefaces and collage illustrations.

Verdict: This is a fun way for tweens to learn about climate change and the earth. I can see this comical book being used by teachers to teach facts about plant cells. Readers will glean valuable facts and be entertained at the same time.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Old MacDonald Had a Boat, by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban

Goetz, Steve. Old MacDonald Had a Boat. Illustrated by Eda Kaban. Chronicle Books, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781452165059. Unpaged. Ages 3-6. P8Q8

This fun book follows the author’s first picture book, Old MacDonald Had a Truck. Using alternate lyrics to the traditional song, we learn about how Old MacDonald uses tools on his farm to make a boat. As I read the book, I had the song running through my head and found the new lines very funny- “Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. And on that farm he had a… Sander! E-I-E-I-Shhh-Shhh-OH! With a Shhh-Shhh here and a Shhh-Shhh there”, etc. And we don’t have to wonder about all of his animals, since they turn up everywhere, helping with the boat building project and singing along.

VERDICT: I recommend this book for schools and public libraries that have story times- this book demands to be read (actually, sung) out loud.

February 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Grown-Ups Never Do That, by Davide Cali, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

Cali, Davide. Grown-ups Never Do That. Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. Chronicle Books, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781452131696. Unpaged. Ages 5-8. P9Q8

I loved this very funny book about all the things that kids get in trouble for doing- and adults are guilty of doing them too! Each page shows us things that adults never do, like being selfish, saying bad words, speaking with their mouths full, littering, etc. The illustrations are really elaborate and capture a lot of emotion and humor. Kids will enjoy looking for small details (like the man who is wasting time on his phone, ignoring the burning pot on the stove behind him).

VERDICT: I think this book could present a good opportunity for parents and children to talk about why some behaviors aren’t desirable, but that none of us is perfect, and we should all try to become better people. Even without this message, children will find this book a lot of fun.

February 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Brave Molly, by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

Boynton-Hughes, Brooke. Brave Molly. Chronicle Books, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781452161006. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Molly is looking out her window when she sees a shadow-like creature. She draws the character and then wads up the paper and throws it away. The creature multiplies as it follows her. She climbs a tree to get away from the creatures. Molly gets frustrated at the monsters and balls her fists. When she shouts at the monsters, they leave and Molly’s face looks hopeful. As she walks away, she notices another monster. When she shares her book with a friend and says “hi,” the monster leaves. Except for the bright red jacket that Molly wears, the illustrations are brown, green, light blue, and grey tones.

Verdict: With the book being wordless, one is able to make captions in their head and create the narrative. It shows that once children face their fear, the fear leaves. This is a non-threatening book for readers to use to gather courage.

December 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Ruby’s Sword, by Jacqueline Veissid, illustrated by Paola Zakimi

Veissid, Jacqueline. Ruby’s Sword. Illustrated by Paola Zakimi. Chronicle Books, 2019. Unpaged.  $16.99. ISBN 9781452163918. Ages 4-6.  P7Q8

Your imagination can take you anywhere! This book inspires children to use their imaginations and engage in make believe.  I feel like many children can relate to how Ruby feels in this story. Ruby’s Sword is a truly special book with an amazing ending. It begins with Ruby always wanting to follow her brothers around. She never quite catches up and always gets left behind. She uses her imagination to bring to life her surroundings and creates a magical world of her own which causes a twist of events and has her brothers wanting to join in on all her fun. Fanciful illustrations and a magical story line brings this whole book together.

Verdict: A great book for any home library or school. Inspires creativity and imagination in young children.

October 2019 review by Melissa Roberts.