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Bear and Wolf by Daniel Salmieri

This is a quiet and peaceful book about the joys of companionship and nature. A young bear and a young wolf meet while both are out walking in the snow. They walk together through the woods to a frozen lake where they observe fish sleeping under the ice. While walking, they enjoy the feeling of snowflakes on their fur, the smell of the woods, the noise of the crunching snow, and the sight of an owl flying above them. After their walk, the two animals part, the bear to hibernate the winter away and the wolf to join his pack and hunt caribou through the winter. In the spring thaw, the two meet again and enjoy a walk through the awakening woods. A beautiful, contemplative picture book with soft colored-pencil illustrations that show the woods covered with pure white snow and in lovely shades of purple and pink and then a glorious spring filled with pastel colors. It celebrates friendship – Bear and Wolf are comfortable in each other’s company and can enjoy their walks together in companionable silence – and the beauty of the natural world.

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One Red Apple by Harriet Ziefert & illustrated by Karla Gudeon

This is a gorgeously illustrated picture book that shows children the life cycle of an apple. It begins with a family of farmers picking apples in their orchard and driving them to a farmer’s market to sell. There a family buys a basket of apples and a little girl enjoys eating one. She leaves the core on the ground at the park for songbirds to eat. The wind scatters the seeds and we see one take root and grow from a seedling to a full grown tree filled with sweet pink blossoms. Honey bees drink nectar from the blossoms, thereby pollinating the blossoms, which then become apples that people pick from the tree and the cycle starts all over again. The book celebrates nature – highlighting the critical role of the sun, the wind, bees, and birds in the growth of apple trees. The text is simple – it is the paintings that really make the book stand out – they are done in a folk art style with bright colors, depicting a beautiful countryside with flowers, birds, and bees. Many of the pages have charming floral borders and the end papers are a collection of apples, birds, blossoms, and bees. A lovely way to teach children about where our food comes from and the critical importance of bees to our food supply.

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Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Fifth grader Charlie has to stay with her aunt and uncle whom she has never met while her father in is jail and her mother is mentally ill and unable to care for her or her sister, who stays at home with the family of a friend. Charlie is unhappy to be living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with “squirrel-eating hillbillies” and she has a temper which keeps her from making friends. However, she meets a sweet boy named Harold who is intent on being her friend no matter how badly she treats him. She also adopts a stray dog she names Wishbone. Charlie’s aunt and uncle are generous, caring people who provide Charlie with the love and support she needs. Every day, Charlie makes the same wish. We don’t learn this wish until the end of the book, but the reader can guess that it has something to do with making her broken family whole. However, with the love of her aunt and uncle, Wishbone, and Harold and his family, Charlie slowly lets go of her anger and learns that her wish has already come true and she has a home and family right there. A warm-hearted story of family and love.

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Vincent Comes Home by Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley

This is a sweet story about love and family and the meaning of home. Vincent is a cat born on a cargo ship. He has never been off the ship, which sails around the world delivering cargo. He often hears the sailors speak about “home” and Vincent wonders where home is. When the ship docks and the sailors say they are home, he follows a crew member to find home. The sailor goes to a house where family members greet him. Vincent realizes that “home” isn’t a specific location, but “where the people who love you are.” He questions if he has a home. But then the ship’s captain arrives – he was worried about Vincent and searching for him. He scoops him up and says, “Let’s go home.” So Vincent realizes that he does have a home – the captain is his family and the ship is home. With soft, detailed pen-and-watercolor illustrations that include beautiful coastal scenes, Vincent’s favorite spots on the ship, and the city where the ship docks. A heartwarming read.

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The Cow Said Meow by John Himmelman

This is a funny and silly almost wordless picture book that will get toddlers and pre-schoolers laughing. During a rain storm, a cat meows at the door of an elderly woman wearing thick glasses. She lets the cat into her house. A cow standing nearby eating grass notices this and decides to give it a try to get in out of the rain. She meows at the door and the nearsighted lady lets her in, being fooled by the meow. This is followed by a succession of animals employing the same ruse: a pig, a chicken, a donkey, a ram, and a duck. The donkey’s meow sounds more like heeow and the chicken’s meow is accompanied by buk buk buk, but still the lady lets all the animals in. The cat decides enough is enough as the living room is overrun with animals and noise and the now wise-to-the-scheme lady escorts each animal out the door, excepting the cat of course. On the last page, a dog comes to the door – watch out cat!

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The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Ashley Crowley

This is a magical picture book about the power of imagination to take you on spectacular journeys and then returning again to the place you love – home. On the night of a blue moon, when “anything can happen,” a boy and his cat go for a walk through the forest. As they walk, imagination takes over: they hear dragons singing, they cross a bridge and a lake appears where there was no lake before. By the shore there is a boat and they steer to the middle of the lake. As the boy wishes to visit the moon, the boat begins to swirl and transports them to the moon. On the moon, the boy and the cat play, until the boy begins to miss home, so he and the cat fly back down to earth and into the boy’s bedroom, landing safely in bed. The atmosphere of the book is one of quiet wonder with evocative, dreamy illustrations done primarily in shades of blue with a bright moon and stars illuminating the scenes.

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Floaty by John Himmelman

This is a touching, sweet story of two misfits who find each other. Mr. Raisin lives alone and spends his time sewing. One morning, he finds a basket on his doorstep with a note saying “All yours. Too much trouble.” The basket appears to be empty, until Mr. Raisin notices a puppy floating up to the ceiling. At first, Mr. Raisin is going to release him outside, but he realizes if he does that, the dog will float away. So instead, with much grumbling and inventiveness, Mr. Raisin feeds the dog, gives him water, and even takes him for a walk. Over time, he grows fond of the dog and names him Floaty. One day while out for a walk, the leash breaks and Floaty is lost! Mr. Raisin searches for him, but is unable to find him as he floats farther and farther away. In the delightful ending, Mr. Raisin sews himself a hot air balloon and rescues Floaty during a thunderstorm. It is heartwarming to see the grumpy old man’s heart opening to love. He wasn’t so grumpy after all, just lonely and in need of a companion. The book also demonstrates the lengths to which we will go for our loved ones. I love seeing Mr. Raisin send up a bowl of food carried by balloons because he is worried about Floaty after he floats away and sewing the balloon is a wonderful example of devotion. The book is also quite funny, with colorful, bold illustrations that add many laughs. For example, one scene shows Floaty at bedtime floating to the ceiling with the blanket over him, leaving Mr. Raisin in bed with no blanket. Another shows Floaty snatching a slice of pizza from a delivery man after he has floated away. A delightful and warm read.