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PITTMAN PICKS

Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia

 

Author/Illustrator: Lina Maslo

Genre: Biographical Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8 and Older

Prime Audience: Fans of the Narnia Series; Readers of Fantasy; Aspiring Writers

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Publication Year: 2020

 

When you open Lina Maslo's Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia, the front endpapers, letters to Lewis from readers, snatches your attention.  And before you even get to Maslo's narrative, you immediately flip to the end of the book to see those endpapers, which are Lewis's responses to each of the letters.  This is fantastic way to begin and end a book about a writer, and these endpapers alone will inspire readers and writers alike— but the endpapers are not alone in their power of inspiration.  Maslo's chronicling of Lewis's (referring to him as "Jack," as C.S. renamed himself in his childhood) journey as a reader and a writer takes the reader on a quiet adventure, one that encourages storytellers and writers and artists to put their ideas on the page and give them life, as Lewis did Narnia.  Maslo includes "More About Jack…" and "…And Other Interesting Facts" sections after her narrative, which add to the delight of reading about Lewis's life.  And Maslo's charming illustrations will cause the reader to pause and observe them, visual treats to complement the words.

 

Through the Wardrobe is a delightful picture book, and for readers who are fans of C.S. Lewis and of Narnia, they'll enjoy the story of Lewis's life and be reminded of the times they spent in Narnia themselves as readers.  And for those who are unfamiliar with his work, I'm sure they'll be heading to the bookstore and stepping into the wardrobe, soon!

 

 

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96 Miles

 

Author: J.L. Esplin

Genre: Realistic Fiction; Adventure

Target Ages: 8-14

Prime Audiences: Survivalists; Close Siblings; Diabetics

Publisher: Starscape

Publication Year: 2020

 

What does it mean to be "Battle Born"?  For John Lockwood and his brother Stew, it means surviving a blackout in Nevada while Dad is hundreds of miles away and without any contact with him.  It means getting to the Brighton Ranch, 96 miles away, as soon as possible.  It means helping strangers you meet along the journey.  And it means doing it all with limited supplies after being robbed of almost everything Dad had stored up for such a moment of need.

 

J.L. Esplin's debut novel 96 Miles is a survival story about family and friendship and going the distance (literally and metaphorically) in the midst of a crisis.  John, the elder Lockwood brother and the narrator, must prove himself responsible and capable in leading and taking care of his brother (and others, for that matter), and his struggle is his coming-of-age experience.  Told partially in flashback, John and Stew's journey is full of hardships and surprises, and the events that test them truly make the Lockwood brothers and another pair of siblings with them "Battle Born," the motto on the Nevada state flag that hangs in John's bedroom.  For readers who like survival stories and for those who like stories about siblings— their close ties, their conflicts with each other, and their triumphs together— 96 Miles is a 272-page adventure that will leave its mark on their own reading journey!

 

 

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Southwest Sunrise

 

Author: Nikki Grimes

Illustrator: Wendell Minor

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 3-6

Prime Audience: Children Who Like Nature and the Outdoors; Children Moving to a New Place; Fans of New Mexico and the American Southwest

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Year: 2020

 

Moving from the home you've always known is difficult, much more so when you're moving across the country, and much more than that when you're moving away from the bright lights and tall buildings of New York City to the wide, natural expanse of New Mexico.  But once Jayden gets to know his new home a little better, he realizes the move isn't so bad in Nikki Grimes and Wendell Minor's Southwest Sunrise. 

 

If you've traveled the American Southwest and if you've been to New Mexico, you'll smile as Grimes by her poetic lines and Minor by his colorful palette display the beauty of the land and of its creatures and of its cultural aesthetic.  Grimes's descriptive narrative contrasts Jayden's familiar yet busy (and not always safe) former home with his new and unfamiliar yet peaceful home.  And while not much happens action-wise, a lot happens in Jayden's attitude and outlook, encouraging those experiencing the new by a choice not of their own to look around them— they might find themselves smiling when and where they didn't think they would!

 

 

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Read! Read! Read!

 

Author: Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Illustrator: Ryan O'Rourke

Genre: Picture Book Poetry Collection

Target Ages: 5-9

Prime Audience: Kids Who Love to Read and Who Enjoy Poetry

Publisher: Wordsong

Publication Year: 2017

 

Read! Read! Read! is a poetic celebration of all the things we read— novels, cereal boxes, newspapers, maps, greeting cards, and more.  While most of Vanderwater's poems aren't technically formal and don't follow set rhyme schemes, there are rhymes to find in each, which give them a curious unpredictability.  O'Rourke's colorful and imaginative illustrations pair well with Vanderwater's words.  Add in a few references to classic children's literature, and Read! Read! Read! is a pleasant contemplation about the words we read and their power.

 

Readers who read, read, read this book will appreciate again those combinations of words that take them to other worlds, keep them informed, and teach them about life.  Now I need to read their 2020 follow-up book, Write! Write! Write!

 

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Thank You, Mr. Falker

 

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco

Genre: Autobiographical Picture Book

Target Ages: 5-8

Prime Audience: Struggling Readers; Anyone Who's Been Positively Impacted by a Great Teacher

Publisher: Philomel Books

Publication Year: 1998

 

With it being Teacher Appreciation week, I wanted to share a book that honors teachers— Patricia Polacco's autobiographical Thank You, Mr. Falker is an A+ choice! 

 

Polacco shares with readers her journey to literacy, from a family ceremony involving honey and a book, to struggling to keep up with peers, to being teased and bullied, and to finally being able to take part in the adventure of knowledge, thanks to the efforts of her fifth grade teacher Mr. Falker.  And as an ultimate honor and show of gratitude, Polacco has written and illustrated a story about the very person who opened up the world of words to her!

 

Pollaco's struggles and ultimate triumph will touch reader's hearts.  And then those readers will think about the those teachers and family members that have helped them in their own journeys of learning and of life— and thank them.

 

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Saturdays and Teacakes

 

Author: Lester L. Laminack

Illustrator: Chris Soentpiet

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

Publication Year: 2004

 

Every Saturday morning a young boy gets on his bike and pedals, his dog close behind him.  He pedals past familiar places in his little town until he arrives at a most special place— Mammaw's house!  As usual, she's on the porch waiting for him, and they greet each other with waving hands.  And after he spends a day with Mammaw helping her with outdoor chores, teacakes are his treat!

 

Lester L. Laminack and Chris Soentpiet's Saturdays and Teacakes is a narrative that will take readers' hearts and minds down paths of memory back to their own grandmothers' homes— the road that led to her house; her porch on which she sat waiting for loved ones; her kitchen in which she made and shared her delicious wares; and her garden in which she grew her amazing vegetables.  Soentpiet's marvelous paintings will make you slow down and take in their details— I especially enjoy the painting of the boy and Mammaw sitting at her table after he first arrives— and Laminack's narrative will remind you of the little things children enjoy about their grandparents and their homes.  This is a book that will help readers remember and one that readers will not forget!  

 

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The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins

 

Author: Lester Laminack

Illustrator: Constance Bergum

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 6 and Older

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

Publication Year: 1998

 

One of the great honors I have had as a son has been to watch my parents help take care of their aging parents and aunts and uncles, how they have honored them in their latter years by meeting various needs, including visiting them in nursing homes when those days have come.  When I came across Lester Laminack and Constance Bergum's The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins, I knew it was book I could definitely relate to.  Miss Olivia Wiggins, her daughter Angel, her great-grandson Troy, and the time they spend together in the nursing home represent many of us and our times and experiences in such care facilities.  And in Miss Olivia herself, we're reminded that though some of us may face the debilitating effects of aging, those of us who reach an old age will be those with a great history of sunsets, those times and experiences that make up our lives. 

 

This is a picture book for all ages, for no matter how old we are, we're still the children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren of our loved ones of whom we have the honor of walking alongside during their sunsets.  Or we're the parent or relative who has reached that sunset, reflecting on the many sunsets that came before and enjoying the time spent with family.  Every nursing home should have a copy of this book, and every family who has a loved one in a nursing home should have one as well.

 

 

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No Small Potatoes

 

Author: Tonya Bolden

Illustrator: Don Tate

Genre: Picture Book Biography

Target Ages: 4-8

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Publication Year: 2018

 

What do you do when you get the opportunity to enjoy freedom and make a living for yourself?  You work hard!  And having enjoyed some success, what do you do when you still want to improve your situation in life?  You keep working hard! 

 

Tonya Bolden and Don Tate have produced a wonderful picture book biography in No Small Potatoes, the true story of the journey of Junius G. Groves, from his birth as a slave in Kentucky, to his success in farming that garnered him the title of the "Potato King" of Wyandotte County, Kansas, of the state of Kansas itself, and of the world.  Sprinkled throughout the narrative are quotes from Groves himself, including his decision to "work [his] way up to better things," a constant theme of his life.  Readers of all ages and ethnicities will enjoy and be inspired by Groves's life.  And readers will also find themselves challenged to pursue those good things in life that are within their reach with some hard work.  This is an excellent book!

 

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Got to Get to Bear's!

 

Author and Illustrator: Brian Lies

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-7

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication Year: 2018

 

I discovered this gem about the power and joy of friendship while looking for a copy of The Rough Patch, Brian Lies's 2019 Caldecott Honor award-winning book.  And after I read Got to Get to Bear's!, it was an obvious pick to share! 

 

Got to Get to Bear's! tells the story of Izzy, a chipmunk, who gets an urgent message from her friend Bear to come to her.  Izzy immediately goes, despite the threat of bad weather, and when the snow is too much for her to overcome, Izzy is helped along the way by some other friends.  When they all get to Bear's, she has a sad look on her face— but keep turning the pages for an ending worth celebrating!

 

 

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Saturday

 

Author & Illustrator: Oge Mora

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Year: 2019

 

For Ava and her mother, Saturday is THE day, a day for visiting the library, getting hair done, and spending time in the park.  And on this Saturday, they have something very special planned in addition to their usual routine— attending a puppet show!  But things don't always go as we plan them, as Ava and her mother experience.  So how can this Saturday still be special for them?

 

Last year Oge Mora's debut picture book Thank You, Omu! was a Caldecott honor book (and a great read-aloud), and the author/illustrator has followed that effort with another outstanding book in Saturday, once again creating colorful collages to tell a story about the common pleasures and joys (and frustrations) of life.  Take your time with this charming story about a girl spending time with her mother, and be sure to enjoy the endpapers.  Whatever Mora's next book will be, I certainly look forward to it! 

 

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