Children’s books: Riding a tiger, riding a dog sled

New readers have long had a selection of stories about crooked best friends: not least seeds and toads in the books of Arnold Lobel; the hippos George and Martha, created by James Marshall; and Bink and Gollie, brain children of Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee and illustrator Tony Fucile. Into the community of these old friends we can now welcome two mice, one cautious and the other cavalier, which together spring from the pen of the writer and illustrator Matthew Cordell.

Cornbread & Poppy

By Matthew Cordell

Small, brown young readers

80 pages

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The short chapter book “Cornbread & Poppy” begins with an Aesop-like predicament. Cornbread has spent the autumn filling his little mouse house with delicious provisions (“canned fruit, cereals and cheeses”), while his best friend, Poppy, has been whizzing around on his bike and enjoying himself. When the first snow comes, a chill of trepidation falls over the couple. Although Cornbread shares his food, there will not be enough to keep them both in the winter. Friends must risk foraging on Holler Mountain, a place of hungry owls and slippery promontories and the site of a neighbor’s disappearance years before. Mr. Cordell’s humorous drawings with watercolor-stained ink keep things going, while Cornbread and Poppy gather and head out – at which point their story takes a contemporary turn. To their relief (and perhaps for readers ages 4-8), the predator that the two mice meet on the mountain does not hunt them as he would in Aesop, but helps them.


A closer look

Selection from ‘Cornbread & Poppy’ by Matthew Cordell

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When 11-year-old Lal Patel arrives with his family to their new home in Scotland, his mood is as gloomy as the weather. As Joan Haig tells in the fairy tale “Tiger Skin Rug”, Lal is homesick for India and he can muster no enthusiasm for the busy old Scottish house full of properties that delight his parents and grandmother. He is especially uneasy about the musty, canned tiger skin that spreads across the living room floor.

Tiger skin blanket

by Joan Haig

Europe

203 pages

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So Lal gets a shock when his younger brother, Dilip, whispers the dead cat’s ear in the ear – and the blanket turns, impossible, into a living animal. “The tiger’s eyes were deep circles of saffron yellow, amber and black,” Lal wonders. “When it flashed to me, my heart rose in the air.” The awakened being offers the Patel boys an exchange: if they help the tiger fulfill a long-owed promise, it will help them find their way home. So the boys and a local friend, Jenny, embark on a fantastic journey – riding a tiger! – who will take them, and readers aged 8-11, from the dusty Scotland to hasty London to India’s slums and mountains. With his sensitivity, sincerity and touch of humor (the boys’ father runs a posted website: “The Hindu Who’s Who of Who’s Here”), “Tiger Skin Rug” is an excellent option for both independent reading and family reading.


A closer look

Selection from ‘Tiger Skin Rug’ by Joan Haig

European editions

Uncredited

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How exciting must it be to soar across the glittering expanses of open snow behind a pack of enthusiastic sled dogs? Judging from Blair Braverman’s endearing non-fiction chronicle of life as a driver, the answer is: complete. In “Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life,” a book packed with funny pictures of Alaska huskies in action, Mrs. Braverman and her husband, Quince Mountain, give a brief and sparkling account of the joys, hardships, and rhythms of a Unusual lifestyle: “Migratory birds live in some of the coldest, most remote places in the world. They have no neighbors; they spend more time with dogs than with humans, and they like it that way.”

Dogs on the trail: A year in the life

By Blair Braverman

Here you are

144 pages

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Readers will learn how Alaska huskies are bred, trained and fed; on the use of braces, boots and towline; and best of all, how the different dogs on the authors’ own team are. Consider this seductive description of Grinch, a husky with piggy hair, glaring eyes and silly overbite: “Grinch is a perfect mystery,” writes Ms. Braverman. “He is a light that shines from nothing and into nothing. He is a collection of emotions in a dog-shaped box made of off-brand Legos.” Readers may not start this book as dog lovers, but in the end, they are probably converts.


A closer look

Selection from ‘Dogs on the Trail’ by Blair Braverman and Quince Mountain

Here are / HarperCollins Publishers

Uncredited

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Prisoners of Geography Our World explained in 12 simple maps

By Tim Marshall; Illustrated by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith

Worker

80 pages

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Geography can be a fickle friend. Mountains that keep attackers out can hamper trade. Rivers that irrigate fields also flood them. Large areas of arable land are good for growing crops, but far too easy for conquerors to cross. The Earth’s physical landscape has shaped human history, and it continues to influence geopolitics, as Tim Marshall shows in “Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps,” a large illustrated children’s version of his 2016 bestseller for adults. Illustrated by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith’s book is not comprehensive, but it does provide an insightful and fair perspective on why certain parts of the world are as they are: how Europe’s waterways, natural harbors, and temperate climates alienated commercial activity; how a huge cliff hampers economic growth in Brazil; why Poland’s borders have so often been crossed and rerouted. For curious children aged 7-15 years, “Prisoners of Geography” has much to fascinate.


A closer look

Selection from ‘Prisoners of Geography’ by Tim Marshall, illustrated by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith

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An enchanted vision

By Kay Nielsen

MFA

168 pages

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If you have read your children the stories of HC Andersen or the Brothers Grimm, or if you have shown them the Disney classic “Fantasia” from 1940, then you have probably seen the legendary Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen’s agile genius. (1886-1957). In Nielsen’s beautiful, dreamy, dramatic images, human figures radiate power and dignity, even when transcended by their surroundings – whether it be of tall stone arches, towering willow trees or the huge black sky in the eerie “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from “Fantasia”. Art curator Meghan Melvin offers a fine selection of Nielsen’s work in “Kay Nielsen: An Enchanted Vision”, which is linked to a recent show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Beautiful and captivating, the book brings Nielsen’s sublime vision to those of us who missed the exhibition.


A closer look

Selection from ‘Kay Nielsen: An Enchanted Vision’ by Kay Nielsen

Left: Flowers and Flames; Right: “Then he lured her down and took her home”, illustration for The Lassie and her Godmother, from east of the sun and west of the moon, old tales from the north

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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