“For the first time he learned to think before he spoke.” Johnny Tremain: A Classic Revisited

Esther Forbes’s 1944 Newbery Medal-winning story set on the eve of the Revolutionary War turns seventy-five this year. To commemorate the milestone, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently released an updated edition with new jacket art and includes an illustrated forward by author-illustrator Nathan Hale (not the American spy executed by the British in 1776).

As riveting as ever, Johnny Tremain should be required reading for everyone, adults included. The book has never been out of print and Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. Let’s not forget that Forbes also won a Pulitzer in 1942 for Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, a vivid biography of the patriot’s life based largely on his correspondence.

Forbes, for her part, was a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander and a trailblazer in her own time: born the fifth of six children to William and Harriette Forbes in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1891, she moved with her family to the county seat of Worcester, where her father practiced law. Forbes and her sisters were among the first girls to attend the private Bancroft School where, dyslexic and nearsighted, the young Forbes was once accused of plagiarism after sharing a story she had written to amuse her siblings. Undeterred, she continued to write, and at her death in 1967 was working on a book about witchcraft. The first woman to become a member of the American Antiquarian Society, Forbes left the Worcester institution the rights to her books as well as material for her unfinished final volume.

Johnny Tremain 75th Anniversary Edition, by Esther Hoskins Forbes, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99, 320 pages. ages 9-12. 

Jackie Kennedy’s Grand Battle

When Jackie Saved Grand Central, by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger; HMH Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 48 pages, ages 6-9 (March 7, 2017). 

When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Text copyright 2017 Natasha Wing, image copyright Alexandra Boiger. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo. 

More than 750,000 people pass through the magnificent halls of Grand Central Terminal daily, but without the tireless campaigning of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929-1994), the fate of the rail terminal could have easily have mirrored what befell Penn Station.  Natasha Wing’s latest foray in non-fiction focuses on Kennedy’s fight to preserve the stately Beaux Arts building of 42nd Street by tracing the First Lady’s belief that preserving the past could foster a brighter future.

Starting with Kennedy’s meticulous preservation of the White House, Wing gracefully transitions from Camelot to 1975 without mentioning JFK’s assasination by simply stating that another American landmark needed Jackie’s strength and fortitude. Alexandra Boiger’s  watercolors add depth through symbolic deployment of color: black for power, red for anger, tones of yellow for resilience, and that famous cerulean blue found on Grand Central’s ceiling to evoke victory. Notes and a bibliography round out this timely example of how to successfuly champion for a worthy cause in the face of opposition.

When Jackie Saved Grand Central. Text copyright 2017 Natasha Wing, image copyright 2017 Alexandra Boiger. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo. 

The Valentine Bears

Text copyright 1983 Eve Bunting, art copyright 1983 Jan Brett, reproduced with permission from HMHCo.

The Valentine Bears, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, $8.99, 32 pages, ages 4-7. 

Say “I love you” with this beary adorable picture book from master children’s picture book makers Eve Bunting and Jan Brett. Originally published in 1983, this edition is updated with a pretty pink hardcover embellished with a garland of wild berries. The story, however, remains the same: Mrs. Bear rouses early from hibernation to to celebrate Valentine’s Day–a first for her and Mr. Bear. She gathers all of Mr. Bear’s favorite things–crunchy dried beetles, summertime honey–along with homespun poems of love. Mr. Bear has a few surprises in store, too. Brett’s illustrations are some of her finest, full of detail and expression. Share this with everyone you love–there’s just enough humor to keep The Valentine Bears from being too lovey-dovey for little boys.

gentle tale of an old married couple keeping the flame alive.


Text copyright 1983 Eve Bunting, art copyright 1983 Jan Brett. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo.
Text copyright 1983 Eve Bunting, Art copyright 1983 Jan Brett. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo.
Text copyright 1983 Eve Bunting, Art copyright 1983 Jan Brett. Reproduced with permission from HMHCo.

Something for Everyone

The Borrowers Collection, by Mary Norton, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush; HMHCo, $24.99, 1004 pages, ages 8-11. 

The charming adventures of the miniature Clock family have captivated readers since the Eisenhower era, and this hefty volume presents five fantasy-filled adventures. The first story won the Carnegie medal in 1952, and today The Borrowers remains as magical and rewarding as ever. A captivating gift to share with first-timers and lifelong Borrowers fans.

Muddle & Mo, by Nikki Slade Robinson; Clarion Books, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 0-3. (available February 21, 2017)


Originally published in New Zealand,this cuddly picture book by Nikki Slade Robinson  lands stateside in less than a month, and it’s worth putting on your wish list; this adorable story about a goat and a duck exploring what makes them different subtly teaches important life lessons like kindness, patience, and love.


Did You Ever See? by Joanna Walsh; Tate, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-5.

Kids wonder about everything–why the sky is blue, what the smallest living creature is, and even what the inner workings of a television look like. Author-illustrator Joanna Walsh examines the world from a youngster’s point of view, and her oversized images of big eyes staring out at the world in bold stamps of color encourage imaginative exploration. Walsh’s jaunty text nicely coordinates with the retro-jam feel of the illustrations. Art lovers of all ages will find something to enjoy here.

Bird Brains


 Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird, by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, illustrations by Guido de Filippo; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, 80 pages, ages 8-12.

It’s back-to-school time, and what better way to celebrate the return to class than with a book highlighting the intelligence of an oft-maligned creature, the crow. But not all corvids are created equal; the inhabitants of the French Overseas Territory of New Caledonia are considered “geniuses” and have been the subject of many fascinating studies on animal behavior. This particular subspecies has learned to create and implement a variety of tools for gathering food. For example, crows coax tasty grubs out of their hiding places by using hooks with a curved edge, and New Caledonian crows manufacture their tools from a local barb-edged plant. Scientists have even discovered that crows hold their tools along the right side or left side of their head–instead of being right- or left-handed, crows exhibit right- or left-laterality.

Award-winning nonfiction author (and crow rehabilitator) Pamela S. Turner takes readers on a lively tour of the world of New Caledonian crows by explaining what traits set these birds apart from their cousins abroad, how they’ve adapted to their environment, and what scientists are learning about the evolving field of animal intelligence. In a book geared to middle-grade readers, Turner successfully discusses complicated concepts like cumulative cultural evolution and various properties of intelligence by making the material approachable and providing facts that only a nine-year old could love (e.g., why crows eat the eyeballs off carrion). That also means a lot of references to Jedi warriors and other Star Wars characters, and the chief corvid scientist is referred to as “Gavin” rather than “Dr. Hunt.”

Crow scientist Guido de Filippo’s charming crow sketches are peppered throughout, and crisp photographs of crows at work by Andy Comins reinforce the concept that humans aren’t the only creatures capable of intelligent thought.


Crow Smarts confirms Henry Beecher Stowe’s comment (and opening epigraph) that “if men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” Turner’s latest scientific adventure would make a wonderful addition to any elementary-school library or back-to-school present for budding scientists.


Make Monday Bright

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Hooray for Hat, by Brian Won; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99, 40 pages, ages 2-6. (Available June 26, 2016)

The Huffington Post dubbed Brian Won’s picture book debut it’s overall pick for best read-aloud of 2014. Now, the story of a crabby elephant whose jaunty topper brings joy to his fellow jungle creatures is available in Big Book format. Clutches of young readers can gather around Won’s delightful illustrations of pouting giraffes, sour turtles, petulant owls, and a wonderful assortment of hats sure to brighten any gloomy day. Chapeau to this adorable update ideal for libraries and nursery-school classrooms, or anyone facing an oversize case of the grumps.