fairy tales, indigenous, spotlight

Spotlight: Berry Song/Endlessly Ever After

Berry Song (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Michaela Goade

For ages: 4-8
The Earth is a generous planet full of food for all the life that lives on it. In Berry Song, we follow a grandmother and her granddaughter foraging on an island near their home in Alaska. Nature is also dangerous, so grandmother teaches her little one the Berry Song, which is meant to alert any bears nearby and scare them off. It also introduces the girl to the names of the berries they pick: “Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry. Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.” The lesson from grandmother is one of communication and balance with the planet. The pair take in every detail they can: the sound of insect wings, the feel of moss on the branches, the scent of the cedar trees.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Berry Song/Endlessly Ever After”
fairy tales, illustration

Spotlight – Little Red Riding Hood and The Dragon/Three Little Vikings

Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon (Harry N. Abrams)
Written by Ying Chang Compestine
Illustrated by Joy Ang

For ages: 4-8
Discovering a great retelling of an old fairy tale classic is always enjoyable. This version is told to us by a big but not bad wolf who wants to set the story straight. Red Riding Hood came from China. She was bringing her Nǎinai herbal soup & a rice cake. Unfortunately, Nǎinai gets eaten up by a big bad dragon who takes her place in the sick bed, waiting to devour Little Red. The confrontation between the two is a real battle where Red has to find objects around the house to fight back the fearsome beast.

Continue reading “Spotlight – Little Red Riding Hood and The Dragon/Three Little Vikings”
coming of age, fairy tales, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Counterclockwise Heart

The Counterclockwise Heart (Algonquin Young Readers)
Written by Brian Farrey

While I am not the biggest fan of fantasy literature, I always enjoy a thought-provoking book, especially one where children are encouraged to think outside the boundaries they’ve had set around them. Most popular kids’ lit I see seems to pander, and it makes sense that children would be pulled toward familiar brands and names. However, I think this book is well worth your effort to present as a read-aloud or for those voracious readers who can’t get enough. 

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read: The Counterclockwise Heart”
author spotlight, black history, fairy tales

Author Spotlight – Jerry Pinkney

On October 20th, 2021, the world lost a fantastic children’s author & illustrator. Jerry Pinkney was born in Philadelphia in 1939, the middle child out of five. Dyslexia plagued him in school, so he found drawing to be a comforting escape from the confusion of reading. As a teen, he continued to hone his artistic skills while working other jobs and eventually caught the eye of cartoonist John Liney who mentored Pinkney. After art school and marriage, Pinkney got a job making art for greeting cards. In 1960, the young artist illustrated his first children’s book, retelling the African Anansi stories. In 1980, he won his first award for children’s book illustration, and by 2010 Pinkney won his first and only Caldecott Medal for The Lion and The Mouse.

Continue reading “Author Spotlight – Jerry Pinkney”
culture, fairy tales, hispanic, science fiction

Middle Grade Must-Reads: The Last Cuentista

The Last Cuentista (Levine Quierdo)
Written by Donna Barba Higuera

For ages: 9-14
Halley’s Comet has become a threat to humanity, barreling towards Earth. Scientists have determined it will impact and destroy the planet. So adolescent Petra Peña’s family was chosen to join one of three space arks leaving to restart human civilization on the distant unpopulated world humans have named Sagan. During this journey, all the scientists and their families will be put into stasis, frozen as they are, and given vast quantities of knowledge over the centuries it will take to reach Sagan. Another group of people have been chosen to maintain the stasis pods and will teach this to their children and on and on until the grand day arrives. While it is heartbreaking to leave Earth behind, everyone has hopes for this new chance.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Reads: The Last Cuentista”
book list, fairy tales

Book List: Princess Power

Interstellar Cinderella (Chronicle Books)
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Meg Hunt

For ages: 4-8

We’ll start with a classic that gets a fresh new look and feel. Cinderella is a very familiar story, and we could have filled this whole list up with variations on that tale. However, I put forward this space-age twist on the story. Cinderella is a mechanically-gifted young woman who gets left behind when her stepmother and stepsisters jet off to the ball. With help from her fair godrobot, Cinderella can repair a broken spaceship so she can go too. After meeting the prince, she must rush off but leaves behind one of her most important tools, which he uses to track her down. Unlike previous incarnations, this is a great update that shatters some gender conventions to showcase a Cinderella.

The Paper Bag Princess (Annick Press)
Written by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

For ages: 4-8
Princess Elizabeth starts out seeming like a pretty typical princess living the expected life and waiting around to get married to a prince. However, things get flipped on their head when a dragon shows up at the castle and steals her groom-to-be. Her home and belongings get torched, and she’s left with just a paper bag to wear. So Elizabeth embarks on a journey where she learns to have the self-confidence and fortitude others may not have expected from her. Elizabeth ends up saving her prince and contemplates whether she should go back to being the passive royalty she was or hold tight to this newfound independence. The Paper Bag Princess is a modern classic and should be part of every fairy tale lover’s library.

The Princess and the Pig (Bloomsbury USA Children’s)
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Poly Bernatene

For ages: 4-8
Taking its cues from Mark Twain’s The Princess and The Pauper, the hilarious story sees a royal mix-up that goes on for years. Princess Priscilla is only a baby when an accident causes her to switch places with Pigmella, a newborn piglet. The farmer believes a good witch has turned his pig into a little girl, while the royal family thinks a wicked witch has cursed their child. The story follows these two characters as they grow up in their mixed-up lives. There is a lot of clever fun to be had here; author Jonathan Emmett is very playful in making nods to other classic stories. There’s a hilarious finale as Pigmella is married off to a handsome prince. Her parents persuade him with stories of The Frog Prince and magical kisses.

Princess Grace (Lincoln Children’s Books)
Written by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Cornelius van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

For ages: 5-9
This gorgeous illustrated book takes place in the modern-day as young Grace dreams of being a princess in the upcoming parade. She suddenly realizes that she doesn’t know what a princess does and seeks answers at school. Grace learns that princesses have been more than just pretty faces in lovely dresses throughout history. The young girl discovers princesses from China, Egypt, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe through her teacher. This newfound information ripples through the classroom, causing both boys and girls to re-evaluate what it means to be a princess. Some beautiful seeds of lesser-known history here will inspire students to want to know more. The book would make an excellent core to a lesson with students reading up on these specific real princesses to learn more details of their lives.

Dangerously Ever After (Dial Books)
Written by Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Valeria Docampo

For ages: 5-9
Princess Amanita is NOT like most princesses. She doesn’t spend her days pining away for a prince. Instead, Amanite has cultivated a unique garden full of spiky, dangerous plants. She adores thorns and needles and becomes fascinated with the roses Prince Florian brings her, putting them in a vase upside down so she can admire their sharp stems. This causes her to want rose seeds to plant in her garden, but things go wrong when they turn out to be nose seeds. Now she has bright red sneezing and snoring noses, creating problems in her palace. There are lovely moments of absurdity here, akin to the classic Alice and Wonderland and its magical illogic. If your student is tired of the “prim and proper” princess stereotype, Dangerously Ever After provides an alternative with an amusing edge.

The Little Wooden Robot and The Log Princess (Neal Porter Books)
Written & Illustrated by Tom Gauld

For ages: 5-9
I have been a big fan of modern fantasy cartoon series like Adventure Time and Over the Garden Wall. This fantastic book captures that same sort of funny & amazing energy in a story about two unlikely siblings and their journey home. The Little Wooden Robot is the king’s solution to lacking a child, while his wife gets The Log Princess from a kindly witch in the woods. Raised as siblings, they take care of each other which is needed when Log Princess becomes lost. Tom Gauld provides illustrations that are simplistic in design but part of fascinating worlds. I love a pair of pages that teases the adventures these two have along the way, a wonderful inspiration for your own wannabe writer to fuel their imaginations. This is one of the books it’s impossible not to be smiling the whole time through.

Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore (Clarion Books)
Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Susan Guevara

For ages: 4-8
Children’s literature veteran Jane Yolen delivers this collection of fifteen folktales about princesses worldwide. You’ll learn about Li Chi, a Chinese girl who slays a dragon and saves her village. There’s Makhta of the Sioux, who leads her tribe into battle. Bradamante is a female knight riding bravely through the medieval era. Not only will this book provide students with a treasure trove of great stories told by a master writer it can also help build geography skills. The princesses in this book hail from places like Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Japan, Russia, and more. There are still some elements of outdated gender norms, often with girls posing as males to be accepted as having strength. The book could prove to be a great conversation starter about the traits we label as “strong” and having older students evaluate the greater meaning of “strength” our culture could have.