Layla, Queen of Hearts

When I picked up Layla, Queen of Hearts, by Glenda Millard, I was unaware that it was a companion to an earlier novel (The Naming of Tishkin Silk) and that it was an Australian import. This ignorance didn’t affect my reading experience in the least. If anything, I was happier after learning it was Australian, because then I could re-read it and imagine charming Aussie accents for all of the adorable yet down-to-earth characters.

Layla’s best friend is Griffin Silk, although in reality his entire family could be considered her best friends. The family is large and strange and if this book were set in the 60’s, they would definitely be called hippies and their home would definitely be called a commune. Everything is hunky dory until Senior Citizen’s Day is announced at school. Layla’s grandparents are no longer around, and even though Griffin’s grandmother Nell would gladly be Layla’s senior citizen, too, Layla wants a person of her own to take. During her search, she is introduced to Miss Amelie, an old woman suffering from alzheimer’s disease. Layla and Miss Amelie form a bond against all odds, and in the end things work out as best as they possibly could.

This book is the perfect thing to read on a chilly fall afternoon and is just as sweet and mouthwatering as the recipe for golden dumplings that is included at the end of the book. It’s cozy without being cloying and the characters are ideal companions without being annoying. Although it deals with some fairly heavy themes such as alzheimer’s disease and death, it never feels heavy. The sketchy black and white illustrations are a good complement to the story.  A good read-alike for fans of Laurel Snyder’s Penny Dreadful.

Reviewed from a library copy.

tight times.

During the  course of my library work not too long ago, I came across a book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman that was in a sad state of disrepair. Since I love Trina’s illustrations, I promptly looked to see if I could replace it, and, as is my wont, went on a spree of buying replacements for any other shabby titles by her, as well as buying any available titles that we didn’t currently own.

One of those arrived the other day–Tight Times, written by Barbara Shook Hazen. It was published originally in 1979, but the story of a little boy who can’t have a dog because his father just lost his job is suddenly, achingly relevant again for children today.

The writing is lovely and spare, and the pictures work beautifully with the text, such as when the young narrator tells us that after he got home from work, Daddy made them each special drinks, the picture shows us his covered in whipped cream, while Daddy’s is in an old fashioned glass.

I think that sometimes my ear and eye are so focused on picture books that I can use in storytime, I sometimes overlook books like this one. It’s a sad read with a realistically happy ending, so give it to your 1st-3rd graders who are clear-eyed realists, and it just might help them feel a bit better about Daddy losing his job.*

I suppose now I have to be on the look-out for books to help kids with Daddy’s possible future drinking problem.

*This book is also cited in may “how to write” books, and my coworker told me she found an instance of where it was used to teach the concept of inference, so it’s quite a versatile and concept rich little piece of work. All hail the concise power of a picture book!