Author Archives: susandepner

stay

Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

This is a touching, bittersweet picture book about love. When Astrid was born, Eli the dog was waiting for her when she came home from the hospital. They became best friends and constant companions. But as Astrid grew up, Eli grew old. When Astrid realizes Eli is getting older, she makes a list for him of things he should do before he gets too old to do them. These include going on a bike ride, going to see a movie, sleeping under the stars, and taking a bubble bath. There is nothing like the love between a child and a dog and this book beautifully portrays that love.

It also beautifully depicts the loyalty of dogs and their love for their people. Eli goes along with Astrid’s list and enjoys his new experiences, but really the one and only thing on his list is being with Astrid.

For sensitive children, Eli does not die at the end of the book – the last spread of the book is Astrid and Eli sitting on a hill watching the sunset in perfect happiness.

life

Life by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

This picture book is a celebration of life with lush illustrations featuring the natural world and wildlife. It begins by saying that life begins small (spreads of a seedling and a baby elephant), then it grows (spreads of the elephant pack and a multitude of animals, from the jungle to the sea to the Arctic). The book points out that all animals love life, and we each have our favorite part (hawks love sky, snakes love grass, etc.).

Even when life has difficulties (expressed by a spread of a small bird trying to fly through a savage storm), the book reminds us of our purpose here – both to love (spreads of a dog and a cat) and to protect (spreads of a gorilla and a polar bear). Young children may not fully understand the message of the book, which also addresses despair and encourages us to look to nature to find hope, but the message is lovely and the illustrations in the book are soft and muted and beautiful to look at. A book adults as well as children can appreciate.

barkus

Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Marc Boutavant

This is a fun beginning chapter book that is the first of a new series by Patricia MacLachlan, who often includes animals in her books. Reminiscent of Henry and Mudge, this book is about a little girl named Nicky and her new companion, Barkus, a charming big brown dog. The book consists of five short chapters, each with a story about the pair that is narrated by Nicky. In the first chapter, Nicky’s uncle is traveling overseas, so he leaves his dog Barkus with Nicky and her parents. In succeeding chapters, Barkus goes to school with Nicky, has a birthday party with the neighboring dogs, rescues a kitten whom the family adopts, and spends a night camping with Nicky and the new kitten. The stories are full of energy, showing us the joy and exuberance of children and dogs, with vibrant, happy illustrations.

kitten

The Lost Kitten by Lee and illustrated by Komako Sakai

This is a heart-felt picture book about a family adopting a needy kitten, translated from the original Japanese. Hina and her mother find a kitten on their doorstep. The mother cat looks on, with two other kittens by her side. This kitten is small and weak – maybe that is why the mother is asking people to care for it instead of caring for the kitten herself like her two other kittens. At first, Hina doesn’t want the kitten: it isn’t cute, it is sickly. But her mother takes in the kitten and begins to care for it, showing Hina how it is done. Hina’s mother is gentle and compassionate and teaches her daughter a valuable lesson about kindness and opening your heart. When Hina is left for a time with the kitten while her mother is out and her grandmother is napping, she panics when she can’t find the kitten. She searches all over for it, eventually finding it curled up asleep on a sweater in the closet. Hina has come to care for the kitten, whom she names Sleepy. The book is beautifully illustrated with soft colored pencil and paint. I especially like the message the book conveys about loving those who have special needs or who aren’t the most beautiful. Hina seems cold-hearted at first, not wanting the kitten because it may be sick and isn’t as cute as others, but she grows to love the kitten.

ethel

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

A gentle and sweet picture book about friendship and feeling comfortable with yourself. Ethel is a black and white cat who is very set in her ways. When Ethel’s daily routine gets shaken up, she learns that sometimes change is a good thing. She spends her days sitting on the porch looking out on her yard, chasing some bugs, and rolling on her favorite spot on the sidewalk. But one day, Ethel discovers that she is now blue after rolling in sidewalk chalk. This makes her feel self-conscious and she retreats indoors until Fluffy, a white cat, appears at her window pink, having also rolled in chalk, and the two begin spending their days together. Ethel is now okay with being black and white or maybe some days other colors. The final spreads feature Ethel and Fluffy in vibrant rainbow colors on the sidewalk and then sitting in a tree watching a magnificent sunset. Charming and whimsical illustrations add to the delight of the story.

sleep

Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Lori Nichols

This is a fun bedtime book set on a farm with an ending that makes the book. Pig is ready for bed, but when he lays down in his sty, he finds Cow already there. “Go sleep in your own bed!” Pig tells Cow. Cow “clompety-stomps” to her stall, where she finds Hen in her bed and so on and so on until Dog tells Cat, “Go sleep in your own bed!” When Cat settles down on the porch, the little girl who lives in the farmhouse comes out and picks up Cat and they snuggle down to sleep in the girl’s bed, making for a sweet and satisfying ending. Young children will enjoy the repetition and onomatopoeia and anticipating which animal they will next find in the wrong bed.

road

The Road Home by Katie Cotton and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

This is a beautiful picture book in which a songbird, mouse, wolf, and rabbit mother and her offspring prepare for winter – gathering food and finding a home. The book conveys the harshness of nature and animals’ struggle to survive amidst such threats as weather and predators. But it is told with such lyrical language and soft, muted, truly lovely watercolor illustrations that it is not frightening as much as awe-inspiring. The book is told in rhyming verse and each page includes the refrain “this road is hard, this road is long, this road that leads us home” until the end, in which mother and child safely reach their destination, showing that home is wherever parent and child are together. A quiet, reflective read.