Bramble and Maggie

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl
By Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Alison Friend

Bramble is a horse planning her exit from a life giving riding lessons. Maggie is a girl actively seeking a horse to call her own. When the two meet, Maggie’s parents consent surprisingly quickly. To get Bramble to feel comfortable in her new home, Maggie has some work to do.

Maggie is such a lovely character: humble, empathetic, respectful, kind, and curious. Her patience and delight with Bramble is a good model for anyone who takes an animal into their home.

I’m not a horse person, but this story seems to have captured quite well the relationship between a child and her horse. This is the first book in a short series of early reader chapter books, and the high quality holds throughout.

The Very Last Castle

The Very Last Castle
Words by Travis Jonker, Pictures by Mark Pett

In the middle of an unremarkable small town stands the very last castle. No one ever comes out, and the townspeople have never been inside. Rumors abound as to what might be inside. Only young Ibb seeks to find out the truth.

Visually, Ibb is portrayed in eclectic modern princess attire. Her actions speak as someone who takes all viewpoints into account and then seeks to learn her own truth. As a result, our heroine rescues the knight in shining armor and gives a lasting gift to the townspeople.

This book is exceptionally well structured and written. The art and words mesh seamlessly. The first time we read it, my little one said, “Now that is a good story.”

Drum Dream Girl

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
By Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López

Long ago on a beautiful island filled with music, a girl dreams of sharing her gift for drumming. Alas, only boys are allowed to drum. But the girl does not give up her dream, and eventually is able to share her gift with the world.

The girl believes in herself, and her sisters believe in her too. Finally her father believes just enough to seek out an expert opinion. Of course all the drum experts and teachers are men – but her teacher believes in her as well, and sees that the girl’s talent must be cultivated.

Based on a true story, this poem-turned-children’s-book with lush illustrations is the world’s introduction to Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who started playing in the 1930s with her sisters’ all-girl dance band.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
By Carol McCloud
Illustrated by David Messing

Everyone in the world has an invisible bucket. It gets filled by giving and receiving acts of kindness, and emptied by acts and words that are unkind.

This is an incredibly helpful metaphor – not just for a small child, but perhaps for everyone!

While the book, its illustrations, and its examples are not subtle, it spells out some important nuances. The best way to fill your own bucket is to fill someone else’s. And, dipping into someone else’s bucket will not help you fill your own empty bucket.

Red & Lulu

Red & Lulu
By Matt Tavares

Red and Lulu are a happy pair of cardinals. When the mighty evergreen they live in is suddenly taken away on a truck – with Lulu inside! – Red travels for miles, searching everywhere until he finds her. Once reunited, they are able to enjoy the beauty of the holidays – together.

Lulu and Red are a truly adorable couple. When they finally find each other, it is as heartwarming as any of the best New York romantic comedies.

I appreciate the footnote at the end of the book. Taking down an old, enormous tree for short-term enjoyment seems really terrible, especially once you experience it from a bird’s perspective. Knowing that the tree is enjoyed by millions and then turned into a home for a hard-working family – that feels better.

The Story of Jumping Mouse

The Story of Jumping Mouse
Retold and Illustrated by John Steptoe

A young mouse hears tales of the far-off land and yearns to see it. A magic frog endows him with a new name, Jumping Mouse, with new abilities to match. As Jumping Mouse journeys toward the far-off land, his compassionate encounters with others deplete him. He reaches his goal finding his joy mixed with despair – until Magic Frog’s final gift brings a triumphant twist to Jumping Mouse’s sojourn.

The interactions Jumping Mouse has with the fat mouse, the bison, and the wolf are shining examples of generosity and compassion. His meditation upon waking up in the far-off land can also be a reminder to be present: “I am here. I feel the earth… I hear the wind… The sun warms my bones.”

I note that throughout the story, the most important thing for Jumping Mouse to avoid are the “shadows in the sky”. What an interesting twist, then, is the ending!


By Loren Long

Otis is a hard-working antique tractor. He befriends the new calf who comes to live on the farm, but before long Otis is “put out to pasture” with the arrival of a shiny new tractor. When the calf gets into trouble on a special day, Otis shakes himself out of his forced-retirement malaise to save the day.

The overt message of the book is the special friendship between Otis and the calf. Different groups take turns attempting to muscle the calf out of her predicament. Success comes from Otis and his calm, playful attention to his friend.

What I really love about the Otis books – besides the beautiful art and typeface – is the celebration of work and play. Otis loves to work, and he is very sad when he’s no longer allowed to work. Yet he also loves to play and to rest. A good role model for us all.

Bunny Built

Bunny Built
By Michael Slack

LaRue, the handiest bunny in Westmore Oaks, runs out of carrots. As he inquires for carrots among his neighbors, he comes across what appears to be an enormous carrot seed! He patiently waits as the planted seed grows into a gigantic carrot. What LaRue does next is not what one might expect.

This book is so simple, yet each reading reveals a new layer of the tight-knit Westmore Oaks community. For example, as LaRue asks his neighbors if they have carrots, he learns that Ivy gave her table to someone else. LaRue takes note of each neighbor’s need, and makes it a priority to restore what they have been missing.

Note that the cookie jar is one of the places LaRue stores his carrots. *smile*

Sheila Rae, The Brave

Sheila Rae, The Brave
By Kevin Henkes

Sheila Rae defies the norms of safety and security. She is fearless. She is brave. But one day she goes a little outside of her comfort zone. Fortunately, her sister has been learning from the best.

It is obvious from the book’s title that this story features a strong female character. As it turns out, there are two! The sisters’ relationship is a delight.

Little sister Louise gets the last word, and she is generous and sweet.

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