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Honey by David Ezra Stein

This is a sweet and gentle picture book about a young bear who wakes from his first hibernation and remembers honey, that delightful treat he encountered in his first year of life. But it is early spring and there is no honey yet. Bear keeps going back to the tree where a bee colony lives and checking for honey, but “it was too soon for honey.” Everything reminds him of honey – the golden light of the sun, the flowing water of a stream, the scent of a tree in blossom. Bears makes do with eating grasses, pinecones, and berries. As the year goes on, Bear finds many other delights to occupy him – summer rains to play in, a waterfall to splash in, and lazy days of lying on his back watching the clouds. Then one day, Bear hears a buzz and the often-checked hive is now filled with honey! Bear eats his fill and is happy, his patience rewarded. As summer winds down, Bear contentedly remembers his summer and how good it had been, providing a feel-good, satisfying ending. With lovely pen-and-watercolor illustrations showing the bear’s natural environment. The book also uses descriptive language to lovely effect, with honey being described as warm, golden, sweet, sticky, spicy, aromatic, and sparkling with sunlight.

Note: I have one quibble with the book: in real life, cubs spend their second year with their mother, so the book isn’t scientifically accurate in depicting the bear as being on his own in his second year.

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If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino

A girl dreams of having a horse as a companion and imagines their experiences together. There is no real plot here, but the illustrations are magnificent and the text is inspiring: in the girl’s dream, she grows in character as a result of her relationship with the horse, becoming strong, brave, adventurous, and fearless, and being a kind and loving friend. The girl and the horse are illustrated in silhouette on double-page spreads, using lush, colorful paintings.  Beautiful to look at and celebrating imagination and dreams.

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Lemons by Melissa Savage

This is a fun and heart-warming book about friendship, family, and healing after loss. Set in the 1970’s, 10-year-old Lemonade Liberty Witt, Lem for short, was told by her mother to make lemonade when life gives you lemons. But after her mother’s death from cancer, Lem not only has to grieve her mother’s loss, but the loss of her friends and home life in San Francisco when she moves to northern California to live with a grandfather she has never met. The book touches on serious subjects (death, grieving, bullying, loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorder) without getting too heavy – it is fun and has a lot of humor in it as well. Her new hometown is the Bigfoot capital of the world and her new neighbor, Tobin, is a Bigfoot detective who spends a lot of time with Lem’s grandfather while his mother is at work. Tobin’s father served in the Vietnam War and is currently missing. Lem and Tobin form a friendship and work together at Tobin’s Bigfoot Detective Agency (in the garage). But Lem wants to make friends with other kids in the neighborhood, while Tobin has been bullied and so wants nothing to do with them. As the summer goes on, Lem investigates Bigfoot sightings, meets new people, gets to know her grandfather, and in the process learns about friendship, family, and how to live with the loss of her mother. The book was beautiful – funny, touching, and filled with life lessons about love and friendship.

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Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes and illustrated by Scott Magoon

This is a beautiful, heartwarming story inspired by the true story of the author, who lost both her legs after being injured in the Boston Marathon bombing and was teamed with a service dog to help her adjust to her disability. The book alternates between a Labrador retriever named Rescue as he goes through training to be a service dog and a child named Jessica as she goes through the ordeal of losing her legs and her recovery and physical therapy to learn to walk using prosthetic legs. Jessica feels fear and frustration as she learns to walk again and Rescue worries if he can be a good service dog after failing training as a guide dog for the blind. Then the two meet when Rescue is assigned to be Jessica’s service dog. Rescue helps Jessica heal emotionally and adjust to her new life while Rescue feels a sense of purpose and pride in his role. The devotion and intelligence of service animals is celebrated as well as the resilience of people with disabilities and the deep bond between the two.

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Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings

A touching story of a homeless dog finding a family told through humorous letters. Arfy is determined to find a forever home. He currently lives in a cardboard box in an alley off Butternut Street. In an effort to find a home, Arfy writes letters to the inhabitants of Butternut Street, asking if he could be their dog and listing his attributes. The first letter he writes is to the family of the nicest house on the street. They have children and a cat. Arfy says he is potty trained and willing to work with the cat, but the family replies that he cannot be their dog because their cat is allergic to dogs. Arfy then tries the butcher, who gives him short shrift, the fire department, who inform him that their position of fire dog is already filled, the junkyard man in desperation, who tells Arfy to get lost, and finally, the resident of the dilapidated house at the end of the street, but his letter is returned undeliverable. Poor Arfy is lonely and cold and sad, when a letter arrives for him! It is the mail carrier who has been delivering all these letters back and forth, asking Arfy if she can be his person. Arfy says yes and the two joyfully hug. This is such a sweet story and funny too. It has colorful, bold illustrations and the final page includes a list of things you can do to help a homeless animal, which include adopting a shelter animal, volunteering at a shelter, spaying or neutering your pets, and donating to a local rescue group. A great book for dog lovers and to promote adopting pets rather than buying from a pet store or breeder.

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Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

The first book in a funny and silly series of chapter books for beginning readers about Mercy Watson, the beloved pet pig of Mr. and Mrs. Watson, who loves to eat – her favorite snack being hot buttered toast. Mercy becomes an inadvertent heroine in this first book. When she climbs into bed one night with the Watsons, the weight is too much and the floor cracks open! Mercy sets off while the Watsons are trapped – they think Mercy is off to alert the fire department, when actually she is off to find a midnight snack. A misunderstanding leads to the fire department being called by the neighbors and the firemen arrive just in time to rescue the Watsons from falling through the floor. Mercy is heralded for saving the day with a plateful of hot buttered toast! With bright, over-the-top illustrations that add to the fun.

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca

This is a beginning chapter book that is delightful and funny. Princess Cora is harangued all day long, by her nanny who insists she bathe three times a day, her mother, who forces her to read incredibly dull books, and her father, who insists on jumping rope 500 times every day, in order to be prepared for the day she becomes queen. Cora is bored and missing out on being a kid, but is too well-mannered to act out. She asks her fairy godmother for a dog, but instead, she finds a crocodile in her room. Dressed in Cora’s clothes and a wig, they change places for the day so Cora can have a day to herself. While Cora spends a glorious day climbing trees, picking strawberries, and getting dirty, the naughty crocodile exacts a lesson on each adult, putting them in Cora’s shoes so they realize the error of their ways in their approach to her education. The nanny is forced to take a long and cold bath, Cora’s mother is locked in the tower with the only dull books to keep her company, and Cora’s father is tied up with the jumping rope and bitten on his bottom. When Cora returns, the adults are so thankful to see her instead of the crocodile that they listen to her requests and agree to them. From now on, Cora only has to take two baths a day and she can get dirty in between, she can choose which books to read, and she can get her exercise from running and climbing outdoors. Plus, she gets a dog! The crocodile takes up residence in the castle’s pond and is fed his favorite treats regularly by Cora. With humorous illustrations that add to the fun, this is a modern fairy tale for reading aloud or for beginning readers to read on their own.