Book review: A Box of Bones, by Marina Cohen

Cohen, Marina. A Box of Bones. Roaring Brook Press, 2019.  $16.99. ISBN 9781250172211. 281 pages. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

At the local Festival of Fools, Kallie meets a faceless man who gives her a wooden puzzle box. Kallie is logical and does not like wasting time on things she deems foolish, so she almost dismisses the box. However, the box has her intrigued and since it is mathematical, she decides to try to open it. When the cube opens up, nine small cubes fall out. They are made from an ivory colored substance and each cube has a picture on it. Every time she rolls the dice, they end up in the same order. Kallie wonders if the images on the cubes have meaning. As events start to unfold that match the dice, Kallie realizes that she needs to find a way to stop the disastrous events from happening. When Kallie was young, she was told that her mother died when she fell off a boat. This story follows Kallie’s adventure and links it back to an alternative world of Liah and the bone carver, where the box originated. When the author is telling Liah’s story the words are italicized so the reader is able to follow it. The way the author parallels Liah’s life and Kallie’s life gives understanding to the present events. This book will appeal to both readers who are logical and those who enjoy fantasy and adventure. It is a perfect blend of both.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book. It would make a great story for a family to read together or a teacher to read to a class. It shows readers that friends come in all forms and there are benefits to giving others a chance.

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: If Elephants Disappeared, by Lily Williams

Williams, Lily. If Elephants Disappeared. Roaring Book Press, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781250143204. Unpaged. Ages 7-12, P8 Q10

From the inviting cover, to the interesting, fact filled pages, this picture book tells an important story. This is the third book in Williams’ environmental series, and is not to be missed. Two black children and a black adult enter the forest and take the reader on an informative trip through the Congo Basin Forest. There’s a lot of science packed in this book, all of it presented in easy to understand terms with illustrations and diagrams to back it up. The book opens with a fact that was new to me: there are three species of elephants: the African forest elephant, the African savanna elephant, and the Asian elephant. This book focuses on the African forest elephant, and the role it plays in shaping the African tropical forest, and the destructive ripple effect their disappearance would have on the ecosystem. The message that elephants are in trouble and need our help is thoughtfully laid out in both text and illustration. The book ends with a helpful glossary and several ideas of how you can help save the elephants.

Verdict: an important book for all youth to read, this book needs to be in both public libraries and school classrooms. It provides many teachable moments from cover to cover.

December 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Listen, by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lemaître

McGhee, Holly M.  Listen. Illustrated by Pascal Lemaître. Roaring Book Press, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250318121. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

Take a break and enjoy the sounds, tastes and sights all around you. Listen is a simple and sweet story that inspires youth to slow down and enjoy the world around them. From beginning to end this book teaches about sensations (look, listen, taste, touch) of the world around you in the outdoors.  Another main focus of the book is how we are all connected in nature and all share the same sky, air and sun. The main character is gender neutral and without name. Simple illustrations in pastels are very pleasing to the eye.  Easy to read with repetition of a lot of common sights words this book would also make a great book for an early reader.

Verdict: This book would be a great addition to any library at home, school or public. An all around great book with a inspiring lesson for all.

November 2019 review by Melissa Roberts.

Book review: If Polar Bears Disappeared, by Lily Williams

Williams, Lily. If Polar Bears Disappeared. Roaring Book Press, 2018. 40 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 9781250143198. Ages 6+. P7 Q7.5

This is a very good addition to the climate change discussion.  Illustrations and format give young readers a clear scientific understanding of what climate change means, how it affects animals and the natural world. At the end it gives a view of what humans are doing to try and solve it. The final couple of pages give a thumbprint of how we can help save polar bears, and a short description of the Arctic in trouble and a glossary. The book does focus on polar bears, but includes the other animals in their environment, too.  I like this very clear and matter of fact way this has been written, with no doom and gloom shadows but with honest facts and nice illustrations featuring kids of all nations being involved in observations.

VERDICT: This is one of the best climate change books I have read so far for children. I tend to like science discussions that don’t emotionalize a subject but give facts and vocabulary palatable to the correct age range. I also appreciate the “what you can do” end of the book, because the subject could easily crash into negative conclusions. Kids will stay interested in this book and understand the subject much better overall.

March 2019 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Blue, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Blue. Roaring Brook Press, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781626720664. Unpaged. P7Q9

This is a lovely book that explores all the variations of the color blue, and also celebrates the love between a boy and his dog. The bold acrylic illustrations are swirled across the pages and make us think about the connection between color and emotion. We begin with the blue of a baby blanket, and meet the boy and his puppy, Blue. Each spread takes us a little further in their lives, showing events like berry picking, playing on the beach, icy winter, and eventually the blue you feel when a friend dies. The text is limited to an adjective and the word blue (baby blue, ocean blue, true blue, new blue), and cutouts give us a glimpse of what is to come.

VERDICT: I loved this book and think parents and young children will too.

December 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Only Fish in the Sea, by Philip Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Stead, Philip. The Only Fish in the Sea. Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781626722828. Unpaged. Ages 3-6. P8Q8

This is a busy, funny, odd book. A boy races to tell his friend Sadie about Little Amy Scott, who received a goldfish for her birthday, told everyone that “Goldfish are Boring!” and dumps the plastic bag with the fish in the ocean. Sadie is appalled, so makes a very practical plan to rescue the fish (now named Ellsworth). She gathers her supplies (balloons, paint, headwear, fishing poles and nets, and her crew (a dozen feisty monkeys) and finds Ellsworth. The loose pen and watercolor illustrations are really fun- kids will enjoy looking at them to pick up additional details of the story.

VERDICT: This story has a great message about planning carefully and working together to help others, and a real sense of fun that will appeal to many children. There is a feeling of justice here too- the story ends with Little Amy Scott spending her birthday alone.

September 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom, by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Schmidt, Gary D. So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom. Illustrated by Daniel Minter. “Advance reader’s edition.” Roaring Brook Press, on sale 9/25/2018. Unpaged. Includes bibliography. $18.99. ISBN 9781250298355. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

“In Slavery Time, when Hope was a seed waiting to be planted”

Events in the life of Sojourner Truth—first called Isabella—are framed by full-page illustrations and a line of poetry.  The frame pages feature brilliantly colored inserts framed by patterns in somber shades that remind me of quilt blocks.  The pages of the biography are unbordered on white pages with a block of text.

Many children’s books state or imply that slavery in the United States occurred primarily in the Southern States. This gorgeously illustrated picture book biography of Sojourner Truth points out that she was born into slavery in the state of New York.  The description of her life—having ten or twelve sisters and brothers, but not knowing them because they had been sold; being made to work both day and night; being made to marry and have children; being promised freedom and then denied it—make clear to young readers the importance of freedom, and, as the biography also makes clear, Isabella’s courage in claiming her own freedom and the freedom of her children.

Verdict:  This beautiful picture book biography includes information I had not previously known about Sojourner Truth’s life.  Both the biographical note and illustrator’s note add context to the work and the full page of bibliographic references, many for adult readers, points the way for further research.  Highly recommended for elementary, middle school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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Schmidt, Gary D. So Tall within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk toward Freedom. Illus. by Daniel Minter. Roaring Brook. 2018. $18.99. unp. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

“Hope was a seed” that Isabella, born into slavery in 1797 and sold to a number of owners, nurtured through her first 30 years until she escaped to New York, forced to leave behind her children and husband. Throughout her life she sought Respect, winning a court case to regain her five-year-old son, also in slavery, and taking on a new name because of her sojourns to oppose slavery and fight for civil rights and women’s suffrage. End notes enhance the story with information about Sojourner Truth’s family life, an essay of the veracity of sources, and a note by the artist on his work.

Verdict: The luminous two-page watercolor spreads, every other one highlighted with a strong vertical panel on the left, match the poetic text in the most outstanding youth book about this leader for women’s and blacks’ rights despite a life of danger. The moving narrative covers both the inner and physical journey of Truth through her 86 years of resolute strength.

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Boy and the Whale, by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Boy and the Whale. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781626725058. Ages 5-8. P8Q10

A boy and his father discover a whale tangled in their only fishing net. The father suggests that they wait for the whale to die and then try to salvage the net. The boy, remembering when he almost drowned from being entangled in a net, disobeys his father, taking the family’s fishing boat, freeing the whale, and destroying the net in the process.  Caldecott Medal winner Mordicai Gerstein created luminous paintings that show warm sunlight bathing a poor village and contrasting dappled light shining through ocean waves, carrying a sense of hope for not only the whale, but for father and son.

Verdict: The traits of courage and empathy shine through this timely story. Be prepared to discuss the issues raised with child readers. Highly recommended for elementary school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill

Miller, Pat Zietlow. Be Kind. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Roaring Brook Press, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781626723214. Unpaged. Ages 5-8. P8 Q8

Acts of kindness, big or small, can change lives and make a difference. Tanisha spills her grape juice all over her new dress and the other children laugh at her, except for one child. This child tries to find a way to encourage Tanisha and, in the process, explores different acts of kindness. Bright and colorful illustrations show the child thinking about how to encourage Tanisha. I appreciate this book mentioning acts of kindness that one may not have thought about, like calling people by their names and listening to others. In the end, the child draws a picture for Tanisha and gives it to her. Tanisha does not show much a of response, but on the next page, Tanisha hangs up the picture. We don’t know how much our kindness means to others. The story brings out the fact that standing up for others when kids aren’t kind is really hard.

Verdict: Both thought provoking and inspiring, this great read aloud for children will spark a conversation on how one can show kindness to others. I will be using this book in my character ed class to encourage kindness and to be an up stander. Relatable to children.

May 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Truth about Hippos, by Maxwell Eaton III

Eaton, Maxwell. The Truth About Hippos. Roaring Brook Press, 2018. $15.99. ISBN 9781626726673. Unpaged. Ages 5-9. P8Q8

This  fun non-fiction book full of facts about hippos will have you laughing! Each page contains interesting facts embedded in cartoon hippo pictures. Be sure to read the captions which contain funny conversations among the hippos and some friends. In the book readers learn about both the common hippo and the pygmy hippo. The last two pages are set up as a “Hippo File” which summarize the facts, and suggest books for further research.

VERDICT: This book would be a great addition to a school library as it is perfect for an animal report, but also a good book to have at home as it reads like a picture book.

May 2018 review by Denyse Marsh.