Children’s Book News: December 2020

Life is a series of journeys which often renew past ties as well as open us to new beginnings.  The books below each take a unique look at life’s odysseys.

Clean Getaway, by Nic Stone

Suggested ages:  9-12 years

Clean Getaway begins with the epigraph, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” These words of Bryan Stevenson, author of the acclaimed book, Just Mercy, mirror the conflicts and affirmations that weave through Clean Getaway. 

Eleven-year-old William “Scoob” Lamar is enduring a lock-down imposed by his father due to some misadventures at school, when his G’ma invites him to accompany her on a road adventure in her brand spankin’ new Winnebago camper.  What grandson could resist such an invitation from one of his favorite persons in the whole world!  Scoob, being Black, and his white petite grandma, make for an unusual pair as they travel the highways of the deep South. 

Scoob eventually discerns that G’ma is on a mission to revisit a part of her life that was left behind 51 years ago.  As they travel through Alabama and further west, G’ma shares with him the segregation history of the American South – one she witnessed and endured along with her husband, Scoob’s G’pa, who was Black.  At the same time, Scoob begins to see more clearly the “sky of his existence” as relationships and family backgrounds come into clearer view.

He discovers difficult realities about people he loves.  But he also begins to understand the whys and the wherefores of human interactions and foibles in his own 11-year-old way.

Readers experience Clean Getaway through the eyes of Scoob, an endearing and realistic character who fills the pages with his humor, his frank observations, his uncertainties and fears.  By the time readers have reached the last page, they have accompanied him on an eye-opening and heart-warming journey.

Our Friend Hedgehog, The Story of Us, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Suggested ages: 4-8  years

Our Friend Hedgehog is an uplifting chapter book perfect for sharing as a read-aloud or for the newly independent reader.  One cannot help but quickly empathize with the menagerie of engaging characters from Hedgehog and Mutty to Annika Mae. Castillo’s delightful illustrations reflect their personalities as well as pull the reader into their adventure.

Hedgehog and Mutty are devoted friends who live on a small island by themselves.  At times Hedgehog feels lonely, but for the most part she is happy to live life with her dear friend, quiet and non-assuming Mutty.  But one day a sudden storm comes up and Mutty is swept away by a ferocious wind.  Being a strong swimmer, Hedgehog sets out to search for her friend. Upon reaching land, she meets up with other animals, who in their own distinct way, contribute to the search mission. (I couldn’t help but be reminded of Winnie-the-Pooh whose variety of animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood always pulled together, often with a humorous spin, when circumstances called for it.)  In the end, after a series of mishaps and adventures, Mutty is discovered.  But along with success, new found friendships blossom in this light-hearted and reassuring tale of courage and cooperation. 

Southwest Sunrise, by Nikki Grimes, Children’s Literature Legacy Award winner, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Suggested ages: 3-6 years

Journeys in life often entail being unsettled by a new environment after leaving the familiar. So it is with Jayden, who reluctantly arrives in New Mexico with his family after moving from New York City.  However, his vision of this strange, brown, empty land is about to change.  Once he begins exploring the natural world about his new home, with a field guide in hand provided by his mother, he begins to discover the colors of his new landscape. Wildflowers brighten the ground and a red chili ristra hangs against pink adobe.  As he walks under the boughs of a green piñon, he hears the chattering of a bold black and white magpie. 

His discoveries include spotting a regal raven, a scurrying striped lizard and New Mexico’s own skyscrapers, “red rock pillars holding up the sky.”  Perhaps his most startling revelation is the deep blue, endless sky which seems to have been hiding in New York City!  Jayden, in this poetic tribute to the natural world of New Mexico, is ready to call this new land, “Home”, just as do most of us here in Placitas! 

Nikki Grimes, an acclaimed African-American writer, shares her thoughts on a School Library Journal* blog, regarding her hopes for Southwest Sunrise, one of her many children’s books.

“Too often, children’s books by black authors have been limited by the prison of the single story, the notion that all black people share a single lived experience, and that experience, generally portrayed as heavy or edgy, usually takes place within an inner city landscape, where few rivers run, few trees grow, and birdsong is the last thing on anybody’s mind. Light, joyful, or quiet stories about our deep engagement with nature, therefore, constitute a publishing space black authors have not been encouraged to enter—until now. …… Children’s literature should reflect that.”

–A Fuse #8 Production. “Nature When We Most Need It: Nikki Grimes Guest Posts in a Time of COVID-19.” May 5, 2020. Elizabeth Bird. School Library Journal blog.

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