Book Review: Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly’s newest release is a masterpiece that offers a glimpse of the world from a perspective we hope to see more of in kid lit!

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Here’s the publisher’s summary:

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Adventure, loneliness, discovery, friendship: Song for a Whale holds so much between its pages.

Iris is an amazing protagonist. I love seeing the world through her eyes and seeing how she solves the problems she faces in ways that would never occur to me as a hearing person. The way that Iris’ empathy for Blue 55 moves her to action is an excellent display of her ingenuity. Sound is something many of us hear, but for Iris, it’s something she feels. She shows the reader how we, too, can feel sound, and all that is communicated through it, on a whole new level.

Her experiences of being deaf at a hearing school open the reader to a different perspective. How do we show respect to those we communicate with? Kelly shows the difficulties in communication barriers though conflicts with Nina, who is sure she has mastered sign language, and with one of Iris’ teachers, who refuses to see past Iris’ difference. How often do we think we’ve mastered a complex topic, like a language and a culture, from reading a single book instead of learning from those embedded in them, as Nina does? Or how often do we limit our view of another and belittle their abilities, like Iris’ teacher?

Iris’ family dynamics are another intriguing element. Kelly links Iris’ relationship with her grandparents to poetry. The sign poems, poems rhyming not with words but with sign shapes, that Iris and her grandfather create are beautiful and a realm of poetry that I’d not experienced before. And the shared but distancing gulf of grief between her and her grandmother after the death of her grandfather draws the reader into the narrative in relatable ways.

Song for a Whale is excellent for those who love fixing things, for those who love adventure, for those who feel they are often misunderstood, for those who long for that special connection between kindred spirits.

Book Review: What Is Given from the Heart

Patricia C. McKissack’s final book is a harmony of thoughtfulness and feeling that speaks to the resilience of children.

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Here is the publisher’s summary:

This final, magnificent picture book from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack is a poignant and uplifting celebration of the joy of giving. 

“Misery loves company,” Mama says to James Otis. It’s been a rough couple of months for them, but Mama says as long as they have their health and strength, they’re blessed. One Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis makes an announcement during the service– the Temples have lost everything in a fire, and the church is collecting anything that might be useful to them. James thinks hard about what he can add to the Temple’s “love box,” but what does he have worth giving? With her extraordinary gift for storytelling, McKissack–with stunning illustrations by Harrison–delivers a touching, powerful tale of compassion and reminds us all that what is given from the heart, reaches the heart.

I was first struck by the illustrations of this book. Harrison’s use of collage works brilliantly. Each page is filled with bittersweet texture that not only appeals to kids, but also nods to nostalgia. Fabrics, papers, and photograph snippets all serve as vehicles back in time for older readers and sources of wonder for younger readers. Harrison’s colors and patterns beg us to turn the page, if only to see what the next visual will convey. The diversity of media used in the illustrations also serves McKissack’s story - give to those in a variety of situations, with a variety of backgrounds. Give to those who are trying to piece together a world from scraps.

McKissack is unflinching from the first page. A note to parents: this book contains some heavy material, but McKissack handles it with grace and nuance while maintaining accessibility. While this is a story about some pretty painful things that happen in the life of a child, this isn’t one of those books that are about-kids-but-for-adults. No, this is a story for children, and James Otis’s intelligent, matter-of-fact voice allows it to move seamlessly from childlike curiosity to tough truths of life and back again.

The story also breaks down what it means to give “from the heart,” a phrase adults often present to children and then leave floating in their brains as a complete abstraction. The reader follows James Otis as he tries to think of anything he might give to a girl who lost her home in a fire. We see his careful choosing process and his doubling back, his excitement and his second guessing. We see him learn from Mama’s actions and explanations that to give from the heart is to give thoughtfully and sincerely.

What is Given from the Heart is a story that trusts its child readers to accompany James Otis on his quest for a heartfelt gift. It trusts kids to match its intelligence. How fantastic, to teach children that both emotion and logic exist side by side in the act of giving!

As always, happy reading!

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Book Review: Lola Dutch: When I Grow Up

The newest Lola Dutch book, out January 15, 2019, celebrates the sincere grandeur of a child’s imagination with charming characters and lovely illustrations.

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Here is a summary from the publisher:

Lola Dutch is always bursting with grand plans--so of course she has many ideas for what she wants to be when she grows up!

She could be a magnificent performer . . . 
or a daring inventor . . . 
or a brilliant botanist . . . 
there are exciting ideas all around! But Lola is too excited--she wants to try EVERYTHING. How will she ever decide what she is destined to become?

The curious and creative Lola Dutch is inspired to imagine every way to explore the wonder of her world. And she doesn't have to wait until she grows up!

Just like the Wright’s first Lola book, Lola Dutch: When I Grow Up is bursting with energy and imagination. The characters readers fell in love with in book one are back, and while the enthusiasm is the same, book two avoids feeling redundant or monotonous. The Wrights manage to create a fresh adventure without losing any of their signature charm.

Much like Lola herself, Sarah Jane Wright’s illustrations don’t shy away from being colorful and grandiose. She mixes minimalism and maximalism with expert fluidity. The important parts of Lola’s imagination are highlighted with bright, eclectic patterns and fearless detail, while the backgrounds remain gracefully airy, a canvas for everything Lola can dream up.

This brings me to perhaps the best thing about both the Lola Dutch books: they provide a space to celebrate the sincerity and grandeur of a child’s imagination. Lola Dutch may be a little bit much, but the story never tries to reign her in, and her friends - Bear, Gator, Pig, and Crane - are up for whatever adventures Lola comes up with next, loving her all the while.

If this book sounds as adorable to you as it does to us, good news! Author and illustrator team Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright will be at The Story Shop on January 16 at 6:00 p.m. for a fantastic party and book signing in honor of the release of Lola Dutch: When I Grow Up! You won’t want to miss it - join in the fun by registering here:

And as always, happy reading!

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Mini-List: Gift Ideas from The Story Shop

The Story Shop is full of bookish gifts for all your holiday needs!

Here is a mini-list of items and book pairings we think are pretty great:

This  Under Water  book + these adorable sea-creature knee socks (Bonus: reverse the book to read  Under Earth !)

This Under Water book + these adorable sea-creature knee socks (Bonus: reverse the book to read Under Earth!)

Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon?  + these colorful party crowns

Would You Rather Be a Princess or a Dragon? + these colorful party crowns

BabyLit’s precious  Moby-Dick  board book + this felt white whale ornament

BabyLit’s precious Moby-Dick board book + this felt white whale ornament

Time for Bed, Miyuki  + the Really Tiny Book Light (This works for any of our bedtime books - just pick a book and a book light in a cute pastel color!)

Time for Bed, Miyuki + the Really Tiny Book Light
(This works for any of our bedtime books - just pick a book and a book light in a cute pastel color!)

Curious George  onesie + library checkout card socks with grippies shaped like date stamps (We realize this one isn’t technically a book/item combo, but Evelyn’s outfit was on point, so we had to include it.)

Curious George onesie + library checkout card socks with grippies shaped like date stamps
(We realize this one isn’t technically a book/item combo, but Evelyn’s outfit was on point, so we had to include it.)


Stop by The Story Shop to pick up these great gifts, and many others!

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Staff Picks: Lana and Andie

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to the wide world of children’s literature, we’ve got your back! Reading staff picks is a great way to find a variety of books curated by devoted bookworms. This week, celebration facilitator Lana and bookseller Andie share some of their favorites!

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Lana's Favorites

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Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

I absolutely LOVE this book! The illustrations are adorable, and it is a great read about so many impactful, strong, and brilliant women throughout history. From scientists and inventors to artists and writers, there are so many incredible women featured in this book. If you are looking for an inspirational read for the little dreamer in your life, this one is perfect!

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Turning Pages

This kid-friendly autobiography by Sonia Sotomayor is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court Justice, tells her life story, and the courage, perseverance, and tenacity it took for her to achieve her success. It is also a great introduction for little readers to learn about the Supreme Court and what the Justices do.

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Andie's favorites

Fly by Night

Inspired by 18th-century England, Fly by Night is a thought-provoking and courageous fantasy-mystery. You’ll fall in love with protagonist Mosca and her (homicidal) pet goose Saracen as they discover conspiracies, colorful characters, secret schools, and floating coffeehouses. Soon, Mosca becomes a very important agent in the town of Mandelion’s impending revolution.

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May Bird Book 1: The Ever After

This has been one of my favorite books for over a decade. I just love the world Anderson has created, and the characters are lovable and so unique. 10-year old May discovers a portal to the world of the dead in her small West Virginia town, and when she falls through, she finds herself (along with her hairless cat, Somber Kitty) entangled in a struggle so much bigger than she herself has ever been.

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Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson has written what is sure to become an American classic. 6 kids from a variety of backgrounds record their unsupervised conversations with each other about their lives and their thoughts, big and small. The strongest thing about this book is Woodson’s decision to let the kids lead it - through their words, we get crucial insights about life in present-day America.

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