‘Hap-Pea All Year’

By Keith Baker

Kick off 2017 by introducing young readers to a perky pack of peas that star in “Hap-Pea All Year,” by Keith Baker. These little green things find the best of the best about each and every month.

Take January for starters. “Hap-pea January! Let’s get going. Grab your mittens — hooray, it’s snowing!” Of course there’s much to love about February, that’s for certain, “Deliver valentines. Count to 28 — or leap to 29.”

With the peas in charge, March through December are chocked full of fun, two-page spreads marking the passage of a year, illustrations focusing on activities and special times, on pages highlighted with colors that make each month stand out great.

March sprouts green with St. Patrick’s Day, and June is blue, big bold letters set against a sky brimming with sunshine and puffy white clouds. The fall brings golds and oranges, beginning in September, the peas heading off to school — a month of bookwork quickly followed by “Hap-pea October. Carve a toothy smile. Rake up all the leaves, and jump in every pile.”

With its feel-good rhymes, and busy bitty characters, this charmer will see us through 2017 teaching children the months in fun form, and perhaps having them warm to peas a bit too. One can only hope!

This one’s perfect for kids in preschool through second grade.


‘Best in Snow’

By April Sayre

Author/photographer April Sayre might have a spring month for a name, but her newest book celebrates the brrrr . . . and beauty of snowy landscapes, making “Best of Snow” a luscious, timely read for January.

Earmarked for little ones ages 3-8, its pictures and words combine for a poetic trip into the forest, a virtual winter wonderland that begins with “a freeze,” frost layering a two-page spread and setting the stage for a snowstorm.

Large colored photographs of animals grace the pages, a female cardinal weathers the wind, and “snow dusts” a mallard’s wings, as the snow “quickens and thickens . . . clumps and clings.”

As suddenly as the snow begins, it subsides, “Sun shines,” and more magic is revealed, “Water seeps. Crystals feather, as ice creeps,” before the big thaw sets in, “mushy . . . and . . . slushy.”

In its glorious progression, this ode to snow entices, its circular story following the natural progression of winter fronts, when just as one storm passes another marches in. Winter has never looked more inviting.

Endnotes on snow add even more educational appeal to this handsome book.


‘The Warden’s Daughter’

By Jerry Spinelli

It looked “like a fortress from the Middle Ages,” the Hancock County Prison, where over 200 inmates are incarcerated — an unlikely home for Cammie, the 12-year-old protagonist of “The Warden’s Daughter,” who lives with her father in an apartment above the prison. So begins Jerry Spinelli’s new book.

Set in the summer of 1959, references to this era are many, and will render baby boomers nostalgic, songs from Elvis, mainstays from American Bandstand, and sharing a drag off a Kool.

Cammie is a vulnerable pre-teen, lately lost in the abyss of life. Her mom died in an accident when Cammie was an infant. Entering adolescence, she particularly misses this connection, resenting other children with mothers. “All my life I filled up empty with mad,” Cammie confesses late in the book when another trauma nearly upends her.

While her father is a good man, and a humane prison warden, his position demands his time. To assist with his daughter and keep the house in order, the warden gets help from Eloda, a responsible female inmate, one of a series of “trustees” tasked with the job over the years.

The relationship between Cammie and Eloda is complicated, each character keeping a tight rein on their feelings. Readers know Cammie’s thoughts because she narrates the story, and as she strikes out at Eloda and others, it’s clear Cammie is imprisoned emotionally. Acting out and demanding attention for bad behavior complicate her life.

Cammie has a great deal of freedom, the era allowing for that, and often carouses around town with her best friend Reggie, who’s on a fast track. She’s a complex character too — driven by the engine of fame.

This is an intriguing book, one that could easily be reread to catch all the nuances. Spinelli’s masterful plot plants a seed that never sprouts, one that serves as a clever diversion for a shocker we don’t see coming.

While “The Warden’s Daughter” is suggested for children ages 9 to 12, its subject matter makes it better suited for those 10 and older. Spinelli has written a beautiful book about the hunger for love and acceptance in which the lines of good and evil converge.