Mid-week quick picks

It’s a crazy time of year, and I have a feeling most of you have little time to spare for reading reviews right now, so I’ll get right to it: Herewith, a list of this week’s best books, for kids from one to 92. Enjoy!

Miniature Treasures from Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House: A Sherlock Holmes Story: How Watson Learned the Trick, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and J. Smith, by Fougasse; Candlewick Press, $25.00 each, all ages.

These miniatures are facsimiles of books in the library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. (Check out the Guardian’s 2010 story about the miniature building and its contents.) While the originals remain on display at Windsor Castle, these tiny replicas are beautiful jewels available to everyone.

Frozen Wild: How Animals Survive in the Coldest Places on Earth, by Jim Arnosky; Sterling Children’s Books, $14.95, 32, pages, ages 6-10.

Award-winning author and illustrator Jim Arnosky has dedicated a career to crafting children’s literature with a focus on the natural world, and his latest offering doesn’t disappoint. Five stunning foldouts reveal where otters, beavers, penguins, and other creatures survive during the coldest months of the year, and points out animals most of us might see in our own backyards. A must-have for the budding naturalist. (Check back in a few weeks to read my interview with Arnosky!)

An A from Miss Keller, by Patricia Polacco; Putnam, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 5-8.

If you want to give a great gift to a teacher this year, make sure that An A From Miss Keller is in your child’s classroom or school library. “If anyone opens the world up to children, it is teachers,” says beloved author-illustrator Patricia Polacco, and in her sixth homage to educators (Thank You Mr. Falker is now an established schoolhouse classic), readers meet young Tricia, a nervous student in “Killer Keller’s” writing class. A sudden loss leaves the child feeling adrift, but Miss Keller helps Tricia channel those emotions into a powerful personal narrative. Don’t be surprised if you start tearing up while reading this one. 

Illustrations from Clara and Davie © 2014 by Patricia Polocco. Used with Permission from Scholastic Press.

“Clara and Davie,” by Patricia Polacco; Scholastic Press, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 4 to 6. 

Before she earned her nickname “Angel of the Battlefield" from tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a shy farmer’s daughter with a lisp, who was home-schooled because classmates teased her.  This tale of inspiration and family strength comes straight from Barton’s own flesh and blood – Polacco is a relative, and as a child was told stories about her remarkable ancestor.

Growing up on a farm in North Oxford, Massachusetts, Barton was the youngest of five children.  Clara was born on Christmas Day, but her mother died shortly thereafter.  Polacco reveals this in such a way as not to frighten young children, yet still manages to poignantly convey the loss; “Mama grew weak from illness. Soon all of the mothering of that baby was left to [Clara’s older sister] Dolly.” Dolly was a stern guardian, but Clara’s great champion was her older brother Davie.  He encouraged her to accept and cultivate her ability to heal others – eventually, farmers would travel from all over for her to cure their sick animals.   Clara’s strength and courage are put to the test when Davie is gravely injured in a fall. 

As mentioned above, Clara was home-schooled – each of her four older siblings was responsible for teaching her a different subject.  She thrived in this homemade schoolhouse, and Polacco’s loving illustrations of the family reading in the parlor surrounded by filled bookshelves is a wonderful testament to the healing power of books. 

Polacco’s trademark storytelling and charismatic illustrations will delight readers of all ages.  Don’t wait until Women’s History Month to read this book – Barton’s rousing story is one to share year-round.

Publication Date: January 28, 2014