Thursday, June 29, 2017

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

There's something irresistible about tiny animals making their way in the cold, harsh world. We meet out heroine, Mona the mouse, as she scurries for shelter through the woods in a storm. An orphan, Mona is on her own and so when she stumbles upon the Heartwood Hotel, a place of refuge for small animals located in a tall oak tree, she is grateful to be hired as a maid. But before she is accepted into the bosom of the Heartwood Hotel staff she must prove her worth, especially to Tilly, a squirrel who goes out of her way to give Mona a hard time. But Mona is determined to win over Tilly and the others and she does so in a most courageous way.

Although the story takes its time to getting started, when the action picks up, readers are sure to be pulling for Mona as she slowly makes a home for herself at the hotel. The details of this woodland wonderland are thoughtfully imagined. In the hotel, chairs are crafted from twigs and lined with moss, pots bubble with acorn mash and sweetgrass stew, and Mona wields a tiny broom, a dried dandelion turned upside down.

A sequel, The Greatest Gift, is the second book in the series.

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home
by Kallie George
illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Hyperion  176 pages
Published: July

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!

Seven or eight years ago, when I lived in Beacon, NY, I wandered down to the riverfront where a local festival was taking place. As I strolled along the wharf, I heard a familiar voice singing to the strums of a banjo. It was none other than Pete Seeger. He wasn't up on a stage--he was mingling with the people and encouraging them to sing along with him. Seeing him perform was a highlight of my short time in the Hudson Valley.

Susanna Reich has undertaken to write a picture book biography about Pete Seeger's long and eventful life, a formidable task. In his 94 years, Seeger experienced the Great Depression, fought in WW II, was blacklisted during the McCarthy years, agitated for civil rights, protested the Vietnam War, and worked as an environmentalist to clean the Hudson River. In Stand Up and Sing!, Reich guides the reader through Seeger's many accomplishments, the common thread tying them together being his love of music. The book moves along at a brisk pace, but Reich does slow down to highlight some of the especially dramatic moments of Seeger's life. For instance, Seeger's experience at the 1949 Peekskill Riots, when mobs attacked him and his family, is given its own spread. Reich ends the episode with a telling detail--Seeger kept two of the rocks that were thrown at him and cemented them into his fireplace, a reminder of "how important it was to stand up for his beliefs--and to never stop singing."

Adam Gustavson's moody illustrations capture Seeger's unruffled personality and evoke the grittiness of the times. An inspiring foreword by Peter Yarrow will perhaps resonate more with adult readers than children. An Author's Note and Selected Sources complete the book.

Stand Up and Sing!
Pete Seeger, Folk Music,
and the Path to Justice
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Bloomsbury  48 pages
Published: March 21, 2017