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Book Reviews

Celebrating Mother’s Day


Over in the Forest

Through her adaptations of a popular folk song, author/educator Marianne Berkes has introduced youngsters to creatures of the ocean, jungle, Arctic and Australia.  Over in the Forest, the fifth book in the eco-friendly series, brings children into the woodsy world of squirrels, deer, woodpeckers and box turtles.  As they sing, little ones can examine Jill Dubin’s richly textured cut-paper illustrations for the tracks of the mother animals, count the offspring and learn about a specific activity for each species. For example, the mother deer and her two fawns graze, the mother skunk and her nine kits spray and—playful gender switch—the father fox and his ten kits pounce.  Additional facts about each animal and tips on being a wildlife detective assist parents and educators interested in expanding the adventure for their kids.

ages 3 – 6

Penny and Her Song

The creator of the boisterous heroine of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse has brought forth another larger-than-life girl mouse.  Penny bounds home from school eager to sing her special song to Mama, Papa and her baby siblings.  Cautioned not to wake the tiny sleepers or sing at the supper table, Penny learns how to delay gratification until the moment she can burst into full song and teach the tune to her entire family.  Such a domestic drama may not loom large in the mind of an adult, but it is key to a child’s growing ability to compromise and take turns.  As always, Kevin Henkes’s expressive little rodents foster empathy and tickle funny bones.

ages 7 – 10

Marching with Aunt Susan

It’s difficult today for girls to realize the constraints placed on their counterparts a century ago. Claire Rudolf Murphy brings that era vividly to life in this tale based on the experiences of a California girl named Bessie. Frustrated because she can’t go hiking with her father and brothers simply because she’s a girl, Bessie teaches her mother how to ride a bicycle, helps her Aunt Mary with suffragist activities and befriends women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony. Stacey Schuett’s dynamic gouache illustrations not only convey bespectacled Bessie’s frustrations and hopes but ground the story in period details of clothing, transportation and forms of protest.  Also intriguing is back matter that includes information about Anthony, suffrage history and the real Bessie, a list of further resources and end papers full of period photos and front-page headlines.

Belle: The Amazing, Astonishingly Magical Journey of an Artfully Painted Lady

Especially fun for Washington locals is this lushly illustrated story about a butterfly’s travels through the National Gallery of Art.  No ordinary insect, Belle was accidentally dislodged from a 17th-century painting in the museum’s collection.  As she journeys, she touches on 300 years of art and acquaints kids with the young subjects of such paintings as Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat, Goya’s Maria Teresa, complete with her fuzzy pet, Renoir’s A Girl with a Watering Can, Picasso’s Le Gourmet and O’Keeffe’s enormous flowers, a “butterfly’s dream come true.”  Author/art historian Mary Lee Corlett has a knack for pointing out kid-friendly details in the artwork, which is reproduced skillfully throughout the narrative by Phyllis Saroff and in color photos in the back.

ages 10 & up

The Lions of Little Rock

Virginia author Kristin Levine brilliantly conveys the zeitgeist of the late ‘50s in Little Rock, Ark.  She focuses on the tumultuous year following the integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine.  In 1958, high schools, black and white, closed to avoid mandated desegregation. New to middle school, timid Marlee befriends outspoken Liz, who then strangely disappears. As she searches for her friend and the truth, Marlee helps an organization working to reopen the schools, deals with racist dynamite-carrying boys and learns to speak up for herself and others. Forgotten moments of history leap again to the fore in this powerful novel.


Chocolate Chocolate

Divinely delicious, this memoir of two sisters focuses not on Congressional halls of power but on the cozy confines of their chocolate shop in downtown Washington.  Readers get to know the too-charming contractor who took their money and damaged their floor, their benevolent, guitar-strumming lawyer and regulars like Gypsy Bess and Kahlua Lady, who help get them through times both lean (post-Christmas) and way too busy (Valentine’s Day).  This is a view, too, of the city’s changes from the Reagan years through the popular shop’s closing in 2008 (and subsequent re-opening at 1130 Connecticut Avenue NW).  Threaded through the sisters’ narrative are tales of their parents’ childhoods in Korea, their success as children’s authors and the developing romance between Ginger and the cute mustachioed guy who liked to hang out at Chocolate Chocolate (and whom she eventually married).  A sweet read, indeed.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author, most recently, of the picture books Pirate vs. Pirate (Disney Hyperion) and The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans (Random House).  You can contact Mary at, which has information about her 18 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.

Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Mary Quattlebaum, whose book review column received a Gold Award at the recent Parenting Media Association awards competition!