Picture Books to Help us Deal with Loss (nonfiction picture book challenge)

I know these are not all nonfiction books, but they are all books that can help deal with all too real, difficult times. 

A short while ago our school was faced with the death of one of our own. While we already had some books that dealt with this kind of loss, I felt our collection needed some enhancement. These are some of our new titles. 

Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

This is a truly beautiful book. It deals matter-of-factly with the concept of death. Flowers, trees, rabbits, butterflies and humans are seen within the following context,

"There is a beginning 
and an ending for everything
that is alive.
In between is living."

Each page of text is accompanied by a beautifully soft illustration. The repetition of the phrase, "It is the way they live and it is their lifetime" provides a sense of normality and solace in the midst of the reality of mortality. 

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic

This story is told from the perspective of a young boy. My eyes filled with tears as I read his reactions to, and interpretations of, his mother's death and his father's grief. It doesn't make light of the heaviness at a time like this, but it does leave the reader filled with hope by the end.

Rudy's Pond by Eve Bunting illustrated by Ronald Himler

A young girl has to deal with the sickness and death of her best friend. I like how the teacher made space for the children to deal with their loss. They wrote poetry and put it in a book. They created a pond and hung a hummingbird feeder above it. I love the moments of magical thinking that happen at times like this.

Harry and Hopper by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood

Margaret wild has the capacity to tackle hard topics with such grace. This book is no exception.  When Harry's dog, Hopper, dies in an accident, Harry has a hard time letting go. Afraid to sleep in his lonely bed, Harry spends his nights on the living room sofa. In his dreams Hopper returns to play with him. Over time the dog fades until Harry is able to say goodbye. Harry's relationship to his father is a beautiful counterpoint to the loss.

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

As this book wends its way into your psyche it seeds curiosity, fascination, discomfort, fear, and excitement. I read through dinner gushing to my partner how unique it is.

My brother likes to pontificate on how there are no new stories - just the same ones told over and over again. I suspect The Archived might give him cause to reevaluate. Certainly it abounds with all the classic literary elements: death, heroes, romance, betrayal, trickery, and magical objects. What makes this book unique is the world building. Maybe I am slightly biased about a book that is set in a library - but this is no ordinary library.

Imagine that when you die, you become a History, a record wherein your body becomes a vessel that holds all your memories. It is stored in a place called The Archives, a library that contains all the histories of all the people who ever lived in the world. Occasionally a History wakes up and wanders off into The Narrows, a space between our world and The Archive. Two groups are responsible for returning them. Keepers are trained to guide them back from the Narrows, and Crew are experienced Keepers working in teams to send them back should they escape to our world.

Mackenzie Bishop was trained by her grandfather, Da, to become a Keeper. Her first person narrative is interspersed with memories of him. The book starts with her family in the process of recovering from the accidental death of Ben, the youngest child. They have just moved into a new home in a new town to start over. 

Something is seriously wrong in the Coronado, the apartment building they move into. A string of murders took place in the past but were never solved. Decades of history have been removed from its records in the real world, and Histories in the Archive have been altered or wiped clean of memories. Something is also very wrong in The Archives as the numbers of Histories waking up increase.

I loved this book. It was a scary mystery, but not terrifying. It is the first in a series, but completely satisfying all by itself. I'll definitely get this one for our library.  I've already got readers lined up for it. 

I look forward to reading more by Victoria Schwab. I've just put The Near Witch by her on hold at the VPL.


How to be Bad by by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle

How to be Bad 
by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski  and Lauren Myracle

This was a good read. I laughed out loud numerous times. It's the story of three young women who head out on a road trip. (Who doesn't love a road trip?) They come from different backgrounds and are dealing with different issues. 

Along the way they survive a wild party, an encounter with an alligator, and a hurricane Their friendship deepens as they learn how to be honest with themselves and each other. They discover what's important in life, and have a lot of fun. There is even romance. 

I especially liked the way the novel was organized so that the authors presented their characters' perspectives in separate chapters.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy and her family have just moved to a lakeside home in a new town. They barely arrive when her father heads off to work as a professional photographer in another part of the country.
It's summer and the cottages nearby are filled with holidaying guests. As Lucy gets to know the family next door she becomes involved in their research and monitoring of the local loon population. Nate, their son, and Lucy collaborate on a set of photographs in hopes to win a local contest. What begins at first as a way to make her father notice her, ends up being about helping Nate's grandmother, who is dealing with dementia. 

This quiet little book is chock filled with beautiful imagery and lessons to be learned. It deals with loss, family relationships, and friendship. It tackles the challenges of trying to live up to other peoples standards. Ultimately the message delivered is revealed in these words:

"Oh people will think what they think!" Grandma Lilah said. "Don't ever choose the people who don't matter over the ones who do."


Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

I'm going to start off by telling you that this is a beautifully written book. I'm a bit of a sucker for verse anyway.  It seems like people can pack such a wallop into a few words using this format. This book is no exception. 

"What good is being brave
if being brave gets you killed.
Which is better,
to tell the truth and die,
or to give the bad people
what they want and live?"

"I wonder what hunger is like 
without a family
to fill the emptiness."

11 year old Serafina is an ordinary kid with a big dream. She wants to go to school to become a doctor. While their family is rich in love, they work hard just to survive. Serafina must stay home to help her mother. Everyday she must trudge to get water for them. Then she has to gather wood and help with other numerous chores. Even if she didn't have to pitch in, they just don't have enough money for a school uniform and school fees. 

Through this book the reader will learn something of Haiti.

  • that it was the first free black country
  • that in recent history people have endured both flood and earthquake
  • that poverty results in malnutrition which leads to infant mortality

Ann E. Burg, the author, is a white woman who has never been to Haiti. In the acknowledgment section she notes working with the Haitian People's Support Project as well as thanking the librarians who helped her with her research. I'm still left with these questions - Is it appropriate for a white woman to write the story of a black girl who lives in a country she has never been to? Where does the profit from this book go? If it goes to support schools and learning conditions in Haiti, then I will be more likely to let go of my discomfort. 

Irrespective of my quibbles, I plan to read much more of Ann E. Burg's work. This is an excellent book that will lend itself to all kinds of conversation. Perhaps the issue of cultural appropriation will be one of them. 

If you are interested in Haitian history I recommend you read In Darkness by Nick Lake

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem

I am glad I finally discovered the safe place where I lost this book.  While it may not be a truly unusual meme, it is a really really good read. 

Connor O'Neil is not at all hero material. But when a banshee comes to visit, he travels with her (and his sister and grandfather) into the underworld to save someone in his family from death.  In the process he finds out that he has more strength than anyone, including himself, suspected. 

The humorous use of technology in the afterlife is delightful. Putting demigods and immortals into a modern day context adds to the fun. 

I really liked the big picture perspective of this narrative.  There are connections through time and space to multiple aspects on death and the afterlife. There are human relationships that connect, and maybe even repeat, across time. 

Ultimately this book is about accepting death as part of life.


Glorious Nonfiction Picture Books to Fly Away With

Some student teachers at our school are researching birds with their primary grouping. Here are a few books I found for them. 

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
I guarantee you will learn more than you can imagine from this gloriously illustrated book. 

Did you know that feathers can make high-pitched sounds like a whistle? Did you know feathers can did holes like a backhoe or carry building supplies like a forklift?

I Spy in the Sky by Edward Gibbs
This peak a boo book is so much fun. 
Word and picture clues are given and then the reader guesses what bird is on the next page!

As the Crow Flies by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Kevin Duggan
This exquisitely illustrated poem is fun to read out loud. The first person narrative from a crow's perspective  shares plenty of information about the habits of the corvid family. 

Hawks by Cecilia Pinto McCarthy (a First Facts book)
Strictly speaking this isn't a picture book, but it is the kind of information book that will engage many different readers. It has has stunning photographs, fact boxes, labeled pictures, and clearly written text. It also has the basics; a table of contents, an index, and a glossary. I am most certainly buying more of this series for the library. 

Aviary Wonders Inc. by Kate Samworth
Ok, so this really isn't nonfiction but it is pure delight. Want to build your own bird? Look no farther than this manual. You may need to order a few parts, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

This was an almost perfect read. It's why realistic fiction is my favourite genre. In this one, small, sweet book, everything in the world that's important is revealed.

It's a book about relationships: losing them, finding them, and fixing them. 

Elise Bertrand has just discovered that middle school is a whole lot more complex than elementary school. First, she shares her locker with a bully. Second, her relationship with Franklin, her best friend since she can remember, is falling apart. She knows she is responsible but doesn't understand what to do about it. Third, she's having trouble keeping on top of her homework and feels like a failure. In short, Elise's school and social life are disintegrating.

Elise lives with her Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh because her parents died when she was young. Every year she gets a letter left for her from her father. This one, on her 12th birthday, will be the last. It motivates her her take a key in the barn with her name on it and open one of the locked rooms on the top floor. Over the next year other keys show up that open other doors. Each room is set up in a way to deliver a message to Elise from her father, if only she can figure them out. 

In the process of interpreting what they mean Elise finds the strength to deal with her school work, Franklin, the bully, and even make a new friend. Ultimately she comes to grips with who she is and who she is wants to become. Is there anything more important than that?


Magyk by Angie Sage

I read that this was a book for Harry Potter fans, so I should probably get this off my chest straight away. I am not a Harry Potter fan. I read one and 1/2 books before discovering Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy and never looked back. You will understand then, that this comparison was a discouragement for me to read this book. However, it was on the list of books students had recommended I read over Spring Break. Spring Break has come and gone, but as I am still trying to get through those books, I gave Magyk a try. Perhaps because I had no expectations, I was beguiled and bewitched by it!  

I'll have to thank Sam for the recommendation.

I adore most of these characters. I love those wild Heap boys. A large part of me longs to spend my time traversing and exploring wild fields and building snow forts along with them. I've found a place in my heart for Jenna who's strong, confident, perceptive and kind. I just know she will make a fine queen one day. Almost all the adults (at least those on the side of good) have a benevolent air. Marcie, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard is a bit impatient, but even she has goodness that shines out. There's something about Boy 412 that tugs at your heart. You know there is more to him than he first seems, but it takes a bit before you have an inkling just who and what he might be. And Aunt Zelda is the kind of wise old witch I might wish to be some day when I grow up. To add to the delight, the evil characters are top notch. Dastardly pretty much defines DomDaniel, the Hunter, and those creepy Magogs.

Angie Sage created a world I inhabited for a time. I know it's fantasy, but I became an onlooker sharing those tenement houses, quaffing beer in the ghost pub, traipsing around the Marram Marshes, and sailing those seas. 

This is the kind of series I love. The book is totally satisfying all by itself, but leaves me wanting to find out more about these compelling characters and how things work out for them. As soon as I get my 'to read list' under control, I'm coming back to visit them in Flyte!

PS - this book is much more complicated and superior to Harry Potter. 


how I became a ghost by Tim Tingle

Knowing at an abstract level that unspeakable horrors have been visited upon a people is one thing. Living it vicariously through narrative is a profoundly different experience. This is why I read historical fiction. Not only do I get a chance to understand history at a much more viceral level, I also learn much about other cultures and their ways of knowing the world. 

Choctaw Nation Mississippi 1830:

Isaac, a young Choctaw boy lives idyllically with his parents and older brother until the treaty talk begins. The Nuhullo, (white men) come one night and set fire to their homes and churches. They flee for their lives into the swamp where the Nuhullo are afraid to come. They are safe until winter arrives and the swamp freezes over. A smallpox epidemic ravages the group and Issac's family is forced to flee again. 

This time they end up part of the Choctaw Trail of Tears. It's a savage journey filled with hardship, brutality, death and ghosts. In fact the tale begins with this warning:
"Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before. I am a ghost. I am not a ghost when this book begins, so you have to pay very close attention. I should tell you something else. I see things before they happen. You are probably thinking, "I wish I could see things before they happen."
Be careful what you wish for."

I was hooked, terrified, and anxious as I waited for the inevitable to happen. 

I've heard of the Cherokee trail of tears, but really had no comprehension of the magnitude of the American Indian Removal Act in 1830. Thousands of Native American people from different nations were forced to leave their land and march across the country in winter weather conditions with inadequate food and shelter. It is estimated that 2500 to 6000 people died in the Choctaw iteration of these journeys. Thousands more from other groups died along the other trails. 

In the midst of contemplating the dystopian aspect to this novel, and the popularity of that genre, I realize that North American History is punctuated with numerous dystopian eras. Tim Tingle has highlighted one of these for us.  

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness #2)

Alanna, still disguised as a boy, is now a squire and continues her training to become a knight. She is a strong female character, especially in the context of other books I've read in this genre. The story is chock full of suspense, sword fights, battles, magic, deception, and romance. There are themes of friendship, being who you really are, and doing the right thing.  In so many ways this book should appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I wonder why it remains the providence of mostly girls and young women? I'll have to book talk this series with my next group of upper intermediate kids to see if I can sell it more globally. 

I read the first in this series, Alanna: The First Adventure, during spring break and decided to read this sequel because of some student warnings that it should be on the grade seven shelf. It probably should since, while there are no graphic details, there are references to Alanna's and others' sexual activity.

★★★ 1/2

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

"This is what made a book great, she thought, that you could read it over and over and never get tired of it."

Piper recommended I read this book during spring break but I waited to get it as an ebook so I could enlarge the font. (It isn't easy getting old.) 
Honestly, I adored this book. It is reminiscent of all the children's classics. Think Amazons and Swallows. Think Half Magic. It took me back to reading The Bobbsy Twins, The Borrowers, Little Women, and other books of my youth. 

This is the sweet story of the Penderwicks, a family of motherless girls and their father who head off to spend their summer vacation at a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains. They end up staying at a cottage on the grounds of Arundel, an estate with a mansion inhabited by the crabby Mrs. Tifton, her son Jeffrey, and their cook Churchie. 

Rosalind, the eldest, does her best to keep her younger siblings in line, but it is a challenging job. She finds herself infatuated with Cagney, the gardner at the big house. Sky is part jock and part mathematical wizard. Jane aspires to be a published author of Sabrina Starr novels.  Batty, the youngest, has a profound bond with animals, especially Hound, the family dog. 

The Penderwicks befriend Jeffrey. Together they have numerous adventures that distress Mrs. Tifton, who is vociferous in her dislike for them. She and her fiance, Dexter, have plans for Jeffrey that ignore Jeffrey's wishes and dreams. Ultimately his friendship with the Penderwicks is the catalyst that gives him the strength to force them to listen to him. 

Mr. Penderwick seems a bit scatterbrained and absentminded, but is there when his children need him. This is beautifully shown when he visits Jane after she has been devastated by the nasty remarks Dexter made about her writing: 
"Jane-O, you're so much better than good. You have a rare and marvellous gift for words. And your imagination! Do you remember what your mother used to say?"
"That my imagination was the eight wonder of the world."
"And your mother was a wise woman, wasn't she?"
"Yes, Daddy, I love you."
"I love you, too, daughter. Now clean up this mess and go to bed. Great authors need their rest."

Even though I suspected that this story would end up where it did, it was still extremely satisfying. I want the next one now! 

If you are looking for a great read aloud, this one is it!