Review: Little Tree

Little Tree
by Loren Long
Published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) (October 27, 2015)
Ages 5-8

My Rating: 4 Stars

Change is hard – especially when you’re little. There’s no telling what will happen when we let go of what we know and what we’re comfortable with. The unknown is terrifying.

Little Tree by Loren Long is a fable about having the courage to let go in order to grow. In the beginning, Little Tree is surrounded by other trees just like him – young with green leaves. The squirrels and the birds play in his branches. Autumn arrives and it’s time to drop his leaves, but Little Tree holds on to them because he’s afraid of what might happen. Season after season, the animals of the forest do their best to convince Little Tree to drop his leaves. They try to reason with him and encourage him, but Little Tree is too afraid. When Little Tree realizes that all of the trees around him have grown much taller and he can no longer hear the birds singing or feel the sunlight, he finally gathers up the courage to drop his leaves. It isn’t easy – it’s the middle of winter and it’s cold. But, spring arrives and Little Tree starts to grow.

The moral of this sweet story is sure to be appreciated by many adults, since it’s something we grapple with throughout our lives. The story could almost be told entirely by the illustrations. They’re simple and appealing, yet highly emotive. The changing of the seasons and what Little Tree is experiencing are both quite clear, as is the concern of the forest animals.

The final line of the story may be a little confusing to young listeners/readers. The reuse of the very first words of the story requires a true understanding of the contextual meanings of the word “once.” This isn’t just a story that happened sometime in the past. Little Tree is no longer what he once was. This subtle wordplay can obviously be explained by the adult reader, but it is still a bit jarring. It brought my mind back to the beginning of the story, which is not where I wanted to be. I would have rather stayed in the emotional sweet spot of seeing Little Tree all grown up.

Also, if you’re looking for a book about the changes of the season, this book is not for you. There are obvious scientific inconsistencies, and that is because it is a fable, not a work of non-fiction.

Overall, the illustrations make Little Tree an enjoyable story. And, it’s a good story to have around as a reminder for everyone in your family that change and growth can be difficult, but they’re worth it.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.


Review: Louise Loves Art

Louise Loves Art
by Kelly Light
Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (September 9, 2014)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 4 Stars

I happened upon this great interview with Kelly Light on KidLit TV the other day. She discusses her love of cartoons and talks about her debut picture book, Louise Loves Art.

Louise is a serious artist working on creating her masterpiece for her big show. Art is not only Louise’s passion, Art is also the name of her little brother. As Louise says, “To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.” But, is she paying attention Art? Let’s just say her focus on finding a place for her masterpiece blinds her to what’s about to happen. One might expect the world to explode when she realizes what he’s done, but this little artist has a heart of gold. She loves Art.

The play on words in the title is a terrific hook. The cat is comical throughout, especially when posing for the masterpiece and when calling our attention to what Art is up to. And, the limited color palette helps focus the story on the characters and action, especially Art’s idolization of his big sister.

Louise Loves Art is a sweet story about forgiveness, siblings and creativity.

If you watch the interview at KidLit TV, Kelly introduces us to a new character in the next book, Louise and Andie: The Art of Friendship (scheduled for release June 14, 2016). Andie is a new neighbor. She’s another artist, but so very different from Louise. I can’t wait to read about their friendship!

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Another Christmas Story

Another Christmas Story
by Laura Koennecke
snow globesBright red mittens and peppermint candy. The bracket Pa made Ma for her china, with its hand-carved curlicues and crescent moons. This is Christmas, I like to think.

As we approach the holiday season, the picture of the Christmas I feel I need to create is shaped in large part by books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Women, and the lesser known Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

My heart broke a little when I realized my daughter, Anna, didn’t share my love of these kinds of books. She loves a good hero quest, the more broken and conflicted the protagonist, the better. A map at the front of a book is always a good sign, and dragons are a bonus.

It made me wonder why I loved my poor little families. It became clear that their appeal wasn’t in their poverty, but in what they did for each other. In a nutshell, it was their Christmas stories. They fought the scarcity and darkness of winter with warmth and light and community.

The authors, through the families they shared with us, created what I imagine to be hygge, the comradery and coziness cherished in Danish homes and amongst friends. As readers, we can wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of a quilt that was carefully sewn by Laura and Mary at a quilting bee.

When the March girls of Little Women brought their Christmas breakfast to the hungry German immigrant family, they lit a fire and brought warmth and friendship to the home.

Polly and Ben Pepper created a Christmas for their younger siblings by bringing in a tree from outside and decorating it with popcorn and nuts wrapped in bits of bright paper. And they convinced their mother to give them leftover nubs of candles to brighten it. They have memories of better times and want to share those with the little ones.

Sometimes, in adult life, I find moments of soul warmth – the smell of wood burning in fireplaces that evokes images of warm hearths drawing families together, or the way headlights and holiday lights reflect on wet streets in winter. In these moments, decades wash away.

When I was a child, malls were being built everywhere. The closest one to us – in Fayetteville, New York – had a store that’s marquee was a wall of golden-hued lights. At night, Sibley’s glowed like a harvest moon but in a season of snow and short days.

Just before Christmas in those years, Dad would finish up chores in the barn a little early; we’d have a quick dinner, then head out to shop for Mom’s gift. We would climb into the station wagon – as many of us kids who were home and could fit – to go to the mall for Dad’s one and only shopping trip each year. The space between the back seat and the rear-facing third seat was my prime real estate. We’d drive to Fayetteville Mall with its beckoning wall of light.

There was something magical about going out at night in the winter, against the inclination to stay inside, to approach the light and energy of bustling shoppers. There was something magical about going on this adventure with my Dad.

I’m less inclined to go to the mall now. I more look forward to places like Jay Street – a fellowship of independent businesses, coffee shops, antiques and arts, with its brick pedestrian walkway and cobbled paths for skipping. It’s Schenectady’s Diagon Alley – the magical street in Harry Potter’s world – with its quirky store fronts and buildings of a certain age.

Now Harry Potter, this was a series that Anna and I read and loved together. Underneath all the epic battles and mythical creatures, J. K. Rowling created warmth and community and gave Harry a family. The big, loud, crazy Weasley family, with its misshapen hand-knit Christmas sweaters and no money, meant more to Harry than his piles of gold at Gringotts.

And Christmas always comes back to family – the ones we started with or the ones we pulled near to us – and the memories we create together.

I wonder what my 5-year-old will remember – maybe the cobbled street or the brightly lit window displays that reveal themselves as dusk settles or the warmth of hot chocolate chasing away the chill. Alas, it probably won’t be last year’s homemade snow globe that leaked all over the mantel and was quietly thrown away. (Thanks, Pinterest.)

Maybe he’ll remember going with his Dad to pick out my gift, and the way they conspired to sneak it back in the house without me knowing. Or maybe it will be the time that he and Anna, separated in age by 14 years, sat together painting green icing on sugar cookie trees way past his bedtime.

A few years ago, when my parents were downsizing, they had a garage sale. Drawers, closets and shelves were emptied onto tables, jarring memories loose from the deep storage of our minds. My sister Kris and I saw the Ziploc bag full of cookie cutters. Neither of us was going to let those get sold. So many of our memories are caught up in the preparation and in the anticipation that what we are doing will bring happiness to someone we love and in the moments that allow us to step outside the mundane.

It’s as likely as not that presents will end up on a garage sale table someday, but memories of shopping with my Dad and rolling out hundreds of leaping reindeer and lopsided angel cookies with my sisters and Mom, who didn’t even flinch when I tripled the already tripled recipe, will remain. The warm glow of the time we spent together will remain, and the glow is what matters.

Although that doesn’t mean I’m above dropping some heavy hints about the handmade bag in the bookstore on Jay Street.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years, though never under her own name. Her writing has been recognized through a recent Yelp “Review of the Day” and several well liked Facebook status updates. Another Christmas Story is her first attempt at “someday I’m going to write about this.” One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

Links to books mentioned in this post:

Little House in the Big Woods

Little Women

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Review: Waiting

by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (September 1, 2015)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 5 stars

In our “hurry up” culture, waiting is so often associated with negative feelings, like impatience and worry. In the world of Waiting by Kevin Henkes, waiting feels more like reverence for the simpler things in life.

Five toy friends – the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy and the rabbit – sit upon a child’s windowsill. They wait and watch for the things they love – the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow. And the rabbit simply loves watching out the window. While they wait, they see wondrous things, like rainbows and images in the clouds. The friends are sometimes separated, but they always return to their home where they are happy together. They lose a new friend to tragedy, but are in the end graced with another friend who is waiting for something special. When that something special arrives they are blessed with new friends to enjoy their windowsill home with.

The calming effect of Waiting is palpable. The waiting in the book doesn’t feel anxious. It feels more like waiting for those things in life that are always there for you, like a warm fire in the middle of winter or the warm sunshine on the first day of spring. Everything the toy friends wait for is either cyclical in nature or bound to happen at some point in the future, so the friends appear to have patience and faith that their favorite things will come around again. This is very different from the experience of waiting that most children and many adults have. It’s exactly this difference that makes the story worth reading again and again. It’s an introduction for children and a reminder for grown-ups that waiting doesn’t always have to be fraught with worry, fear and longing. The rabbit exudes the attitude best – watching and letting the world reveal its wonders can be enjoyable itself. You don’t even have to be waiting for something in particular. Simply being in the world in the here and now is its own reward.

It always amazes me how much emotion can be shown with the simple change in expression on the face of a character. Henkes, of course, masters this with the subtle changes of the toy characters whose home is always the same, but with a backdrop that is always changing. This is most poignant in the four pages with the toys observing the rainbow, the lightning, the snow storm and the fireworks. The wonder, fear, awe and enjoyment are portrayed with great skill. The feelings are familiar, and they jump off the page into your heart.

Waiting is thought of as a book about friends, but I see this as a book about family. The ending especially drives this home. These friends are a family enjoying each other’s company as they each experience the world in their own unique way.

Kevin Henkes has offered the world many great works of children’s fiction. What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.