Friday, March 25, 2016

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

First lines can be powerful. They set the tone for the book, and every once in a while, they are so good that just reading that same line years later can remind you of where you were when you first read that story. 

The house at the end of the street is full of bad air. 

Samantha Mabry’s first line in A Fierce and Subtle Poison immediately transports me to the heat and island humidity of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the croak of frogs fills the air and wildlife hides just beyond the fringes. 

Mabry’s choice of narrator is also interesting. This story could be told from an islander’s perspective, from a native puerto riqueño. Instead, she choose Lucas Knight, an outsider who is only half an outsider, with a foot in both worlds—the world where strange stories are cited as fact, where houses are cursed and girls go missing—and the world of his father, a tourist hotel developer from the mainland who could care less about marring the natural beauty of the island. 

Having grown up every summer in Old San Juan, Lucas has inherited the story of the house at the end of Calle Sol, where the superstitious señoras tell of a scientist who studies strange plants, whose wife was never seen, of a macaw who one day dropped dead of no reason. 

Anything that goes near the house at the end of Calle Sol ends up dead. 

As a child, Lucas threw a piece of crumpled up paper over the wall surrounding the cursed house. On it, he wrote,  “I wish I could lift the curse over the house at the end of Calle Sol so the birds would fly over it again.” 

And when girls from the island go missing and turn up dead on the beach, that same wish from years ago reappears in his bedroom, with new words written on it in blue ink: 

“So what’s stopping you?”

Lucas will have to uncover the mystery behind the house at the end of Calle Sol. In real life, curses are deadlier than in stories. 

Samantha Mabry 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Carol (short for Carolina) is not happy that she will be spending her summer in the middle of nowhere in the New Mexican desert with only her family for company. Her grandfather, Serge, has Alzheimer’s, and alternates between moments of true lucidity and forgetfulness, sometimes calling Carol by her grandmother’s name, Rosa. Hour of the Bees is a place where the line between reality and magic is blurred, like the horizon line in the desert.

The red dust and the blue sky speak of a drought that has lasted over a hundred years. Time seems to have stood still, with only the shearing of sheep to indicate that time has past. Even Serge’s dog, Inés, is the same dog that Carol’s father had when he was young. When the bees start to appear in the bone dry desert, nobody believes Carol, except Serge.

“Bees, impossible. But it’s only impossible if you stop to think about it…If you see any more bees, chiquita, tell me. The bees will bring back the rain.”

Carol passes the summer listening to her grandfather’s made-up stories about a desert town that centered around a tree that healed injuries, where nobody every left, and where babies took years to become children. Telling these stories, Serge is the most lucid, especially when describing his wife, Rosa, Carolina’s grandmother.

“Every step she took, bees followed her in a halo around her head. They trailed behind her wherever she went. No one else in the village had the bees follow when they walked; only Rosa. No one knew why, but no one really asked why—the village had plenty of mysteries. Bigger mysteries.”

The longer Carolina stays in the desert, the more vivid these stories become until she thinks they might just be real. And why are there bees in the middle of a desert that only she can see? And her grandfather’s stories can’t be true—not when he describes a tree that gave a village life, and trees like that don’t grow in the desert.

Lindsay Eagar’s writing is lyrical, speaking of a landscape that, in the middle of its harshness, hides truly beautiful magic within. Hour of the Bees is magical-realism at its best for young readers.

Lindsay Eagar, author of Hour of the Bees

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

When young William wakes up one morning, something truly magical has happened outside of the Grimloch Orphanage. He is amazed to find that during the night, what was an ordinary tree has been transformed into larger-than-life topiary of an owl! Each day brings a new delight in the form of an animal topiary, including a cat, a rabbit, a parakeet, and more. Something truly incredible is in the night air.

After tree after tree is transformed, William starts to wonder who might be behind the wondrous happenings on Grimloch Lane. One night, he spots someone unfamiliar walking into Grimloch Park, and follows him to find a man with a kind smile and a mustache like a mop, carrying a very tall ladder: “The gentleman turned to William. ‘There are so many trees in this park. I could use a little help.’ It was the Night Gardener!” As an orphan (which is only given away by looking closely at the illustrations) William has found a home in the night, trimming topiaries alongside the Night Gardener.

The illustrations are truly magnificent, a cross between detailed pencil drawings and lush greens and blues—colors that remind the reader of the twilight hour and evoke the mystery behind the Night Gardener and his garden, which is in the public eye. The townspeople gather each day to marvel at what new animal topiary has joined their neighborhood, and young readers will have a fun time poring over all the detail in the illustrations. Eventually, the Night Gardener leaves William a pair of shears, passing on the task of transforming the trees on Grimloch Lane. As the town is transformed, so, too, is William.

The creators of The Night Gardener are brothers who live in Toronto, Eric and Terry Fan. When asked who drew the illustrations and who came up with the story, they say that the book was a complete collaboration between both of them in both words and illustrations. When asked where the inspiration behind the Night Gardener came from, Eric said that the character of the Night Gardener was inspired by their father. He says, “The earliest DNA for the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad always had a great love of trees and nature and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto, one of the things he missed most was nature and being outside. I can see now that he tried to balance that love of nature with the cold Canadian winters, and so our house was always filled to the rafters with plants and trees. It was a veritable jungle.”

The Fan Brothers are a new literary team whose collaborative skills are seamless, and whose talent is not to be missed. In The Night Gardener, Grimloch Lane is a place where community comes together, where there is time to “stop and smell the roses.” The Night Gardener reminds us that we should not lose that sense of wonder that children so innately possess. 

To learn more about the Fan Brothers in an interview, click here

Looking for a signed copy of this book? Lemuria has them! 

This article originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14 

This line from the Gospel of Matthew comes to mind after reading Dear Pope Francis, Pope Francis’ first and only (to date) children’s book.

Dear Pope Francis is a collection of letters addressed to the pope from children all over the world. Out of approximately 250 letters written to the pope in 14 different languages from 26 countries, 30 were chosen. Each letter is accompanied by a photograph of the child, and a handwritten and illustrated letter, where each child asks Pope Francis a question. Pope Francis does not speak down to the children, but answers each question thoughtfully and purposefully. Even he admits, “But these are tough questions!”

Some questions are so joyful and childlike, especially a question from a six-year-old from Albania named Prajla, who writes, “When you were a child, did you like dancing?” And Wing, age 8 from China, who asks the pope, “Why do you like to play soccer?” However, other questions are incredibly deep and difficult. 

Ryan, age 8 from Canada, writes, “It’s an honour to ask you my question. My question is, what did God do before the world was made?” To which Pope Francis responds, “If I told you that God was doing nothing before he created the world, I would be wrong….think of it this way: before creating anything, God loved. That’s what God was doing: God was loving. God always loves. God is love….Before doing anything else, God was love, and God was loving.”

Ryan, Age 8, Canada, asks Pope Francis a question in his letter.

There are other questions (and answers) that will inspire children and adults alike. Ivan, a 13-year-old from China, asks Pope Francis what will happen to his grandfather who is non-Catholic. The answer Pope Francis gives him shows why he is known as the pope of mercy.  
Mohammed, age 10 from Syria, asks Pope Francis if the world will be as it is again in the past. Maximus, age 10 from Singapore, asks why God created us human even though he knew that we would sin against him. Luca, age 7 from Australia, who asks, “My mum is in heaven. Will she grow angel wings?” 

These are just a few of the questions found in Dear Pope Francis.

Out of the mouths of babes. These are 30 questions that even adults would like to know the answer to. These children ask questions that adults, out of spiritual blindness, are too afraid to ask. These 30 children, in their innocence, seek the truth. And Pope Francis acknowledges their questions with grace and humility. He compliments their drawings. By answering these questions, he embodies Matthew 19:14, letting the little children come to him.

Father Antonio Spadaro and Loyola University Press are the people responsible for making Dear Pope Francis a reality.  Fr. Spadaro is a Jesuit in Rome, and the director of La Civilta Cattolica, a Roman Catholic magazine. He delivered these 30 letters in person to the pope, and he transcribed Pope Francis’ verbal responses to the questions. Fr. Spadaro writes at the end of the book that when Pope Francis answered each question, he would answer as if the child was sitting directly in front of him, and he would also imagine that child’s surroundings, whether it be a war-torn refugee camp in Syria, or a beautiful garden in Europe, or a small apartment in China.

Dear Pope Francis is a book that Christians and non-Christians alike will find interesting, especially those who have questions about Christianity, or those who want to know more about what Pope Francis says about the Catholic faith. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge: Perfect for Storytime, Ages 0-3

“Schweeepty peep!” 

This is the noise a little owl named Peep makes. Her older brother, Hoot, is much wiser. Here, he imparts his only wisdom.

“‘No, no, no! It goes like this, Peeps. First, we are owls. We say Hooo. Second, we ALWAYS say Hooo. Lastly, we ONLY say Hooo'.” 

Peep just can’t seem to get the hang of it. She peeps, coos, and echoes the ringing bell, “ding dong bong!” Hoot seems to be stuck in his ways: “The problem with Peep, thought Hoot, is she wont listen to my owly wisdom.” Peep thinks that Hoot’s problem is that “he doesn’t believe in singing about the mystery of things.”

Lita Judge’s absolutely adorable illustrations and cute owl calls will fill your heart, and will have your child making owl noises before bedtime. Hoot and Peep is a sibling story, but is a great book for any little one. It is the perfect read to demonstrate teamwork, cooperation, and considering others points of view, even from a young age! 

Will Hoot learn to love Peep’s singing? And will Peep ever act like a true owl? Pick up this book to find out.