“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney

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Recommended to me by: Cathy, who mailed me her copy in this time of social distancing

This children’s book with delicate, detailed, delightful illustrations follows Miss Alice Rumphius through her adventurous life, encounter with disability, and the achievement of her life goal to do something to make the world more beautiful.

Young Alice says to her grandfather, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather never doubts her.

It’s wonderful to see a story take for granted that a single, independent woman can move forward with courage and determination to achieve her goals, which do not include marriage and children. It’s wonderful that the story shows her in middle age and old age, not just as a young woman. An injury keeps in her in bed for a while, and she uses a cane, all as part of the matter-of-fact flow of the story.

Miss Rumphius is white. She befriends people of color in other countries. My only disappointment with the book is that the children visiting her at the end of the book are all white.

Highly recommended! Be sure to spend some time with the details of the illustrations.

From the Powell’s listing, About the Author:
Like Miss Rumphius, the late Barbara Cooney traveled the world, lived in a house by the sea in Maine, and, through her art, made the world more beautiful.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld

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Recommended to me by: Leah K. Walsh

A heart-warming children’s book with few words and spacious illustrations that perfectly convey emotion through body language. Young Taylor (gender unspecified) has a creative disaster, and all the animals have ideas about how to offer comfort. Finally, the rabbit sits nearby and listens, and Taylor begins to feel better.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The White Cat and the Monk” by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrations by Sydney Smith

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Subtitle: A Retelling of the Poem “Pangur Bán”

Recommended to me by: The White Cat and the Monk: A Lovely 9th-Century Ode to the Joy of Uncompetitive Purposefulness, Newly Illustrated

A lovely picture book, well-described by the recommending article, about a monk and his white cat. I could see it leading to a lot of questions if read to a small child, about monks, and cats catching mice. The drawings are enchanting.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills

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Subtitle: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

Grandy, a “somewhat wise” grandmother with a long silver braid, has suffered a big loss. In gorgeous detailed illustrations we see her making tear soup with her tears, memories, and time. She grieves alone and with friends. She gives it all the time it needs, far longer than some people think it should take. Eventually she’s ready to put her soup in the freezer and only eat it occasionally.

A loving, compassionate look at grieving big losses in children’s book format, but appropriate for any age. Highly recommended.

Grief Watch website has more books, and a free download of the “cooking tips” and “recipe” from the back of this book.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Under Plum Lake” by Lionel Davidson

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I wish I could find the post that recommended this book to me strongly enough to put it on hold at the library. When it showed up, it didn’t look like my kind of thing, but it’s short and pulled me through all the way to the end.

It’s a portal fantasy as a vehicle for the author’s messages about spirituality and humanity’s possible future. I can’t even tell if the very advanced society under the ocean is meant to be aspirational, or a cautionary tale. Their science (sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic) is certainly enticing, but their main character Dido is arrogant and callously indifferent to his human visitor’s safety.

There is a brief sentence explaining why they all have white hair and green eyes, but it reads as a coverup for yet another future where the people of color have been erased.

It reminded me a little bit of George MacDonald’s children’s books, but the moral lesson was more ambiguous.

Tygertale posts more of the story and excerpts from an illustrated edition.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Thirteen Clocks” by James Thurber

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Recommended to me by: My college roommate

In times of extreme stress, my college roommate gathered a group of us together and read aloud this delightful, illustrated, untraditional fairytale. She tracked down a used copy for me, and it is one of my treasured possessions.

As an antidote to extreme election anxiety, I read the story aloud recently over a couple of evenings. The lyrical language and satisfying conclusion are still soothing all these years later.

I would like a Golux to fix the election please.

Back in print! Available at Powell’s Books.

“Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers as seen by Matt James

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“Northwest Passage” on youtube Go listen!

Stan Rogers was a Canadian folk music luminary, writing and performing songs with wonderful lyrics and harmonies. Sadly, he died back in 1983 in a airplane fire. He got out, but died of smoke inhalation when he went back in to help others. I remember the collective grief at a folk festival when the news first went around.

When I saw a post about a large-format children’s book that illustrates Stan Rogers’ song, I immediately requested it at the library. The colorful, detailed, dramatic paintings illustrate the song line by line.

The book also includes a detailed history of John Franklin’s doomed expedition searching for the Northwest Passage through Arctic waters to the Pacific. The explorers died of an unusually cold winter, and of hubris in thinking they did not need the help of local First Nations people. Instead of foraging locally, they carried canned food brought from England which turned out to have a lot of lead in the cans.

The last page has sheet music for the song, and a fourth verse that was never recorded.

And it will be I’ll come again to loved ones left at home,
Place the journals on the mantel, bake the frost out of my bones,
Leaving memories far behind me, only memories after all,
And hardships then, the hardest to recall

Rest in peace, Stan Rogers. You are not forgotten!

Stan Rogers website with information about his albums and another book about the same song.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Sammy, the crow who remembered” by Elizabeth Baldwin Hazelton

I had this book as a kid. I remembered it because it has a character named Sonya, which is the only place I ever saw my name in a book, even spelled wrong differently. Well, until Crime and Punishment, but that was much later. Representation is important! I also remembered an overall warm feeling about the story.

It’s a true story, told with photographs, of a crow who returned to play and live with the family who raised him. Re-reading it now, I wonder about the photographer, Ann Atwood. There are gorgeous black and white photos of Sammy interacting with a cat, a seagull, a passel of kids, and gently leaning into an adult’s petting hand.

Highly recommended, if you can track down a copy.

“The Stone Lions” by Gwen Dandridge

Recommended to me by: Knowing the author and reading early drafts long ago

I expected this book to feel a little repetitive since I read so many early drafts. Instead, it was riveting! I found myself not wanting to stop to go to bed, and wanting to pick it up again the next morning instead of working. (I did exercise some self-discipline.)

I sent off that copy to my sister for her kids, and ordered a few more to give to families with kids of the right age. I love that it centers on girl and women characters, as well as teaching about Muslim culture, the Alhambra, and a little math.

The only issue I had is that even though characters advocate for mercy toward the villain, we only see him acting in evil ways. In my experience, the worst villains are nice most of the time, especially to people with more power. One-note evil breaks my suspension of disbelief more than mathemagics.

Highly recommended for girls, boys, and anyone who is tired of the same old tropes in fantasy.

Content Note: Some cruelty to small animals, and off-stage violence at the end, so not appropriate for very young readers.

Available at Amazon.com.

“The Bear That Wasn’t” by Frank Tashlin

Recommended to me by: A client.

This children’s book was written in 1946 about a bear who emerges from peaceful hibernation to find that a factory has been built around his cave. The factory managers tell him to get to work. When he protests that he is a bear, one manager after another tells him he is a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. Eventually they wear him down and he comes to believe them.

This is a classic example of gaslighting – making someone doubt their own reality.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Tashlin’s line drawings. The only downside to the book is blatant sexism in the illustrations. For example, each (male) factory manager has a series of shapely female secretaries. Aside from that, I wholeheartedly recommend the book, which supports the idea of listening to your own truth and not letting yourself be outvoted by other people’s opinions.

Available at Powell’s Books.