Beautiful and sweet characterize Melissa Sweet’s Tupelo Rides the Rails (Houghton Mifflin, 40 pp., $17; ages 4-8), a book about finding a place to belong. It should be a sad and scary day when Tupelo is abandoned by the side of the road. But although Tupelo is perplexed (and the reader will be, too – who could abandon a dog like Tupelo?) she eschews fear for the promise of the wide, wide world. Encountering a pack of lost dogs, Tupelo joins them to ride the rails to Hoboken – a town where all dogs, it seems, are welcome. All dogs except for Tupelo. Rejected again, Tupelo must use her instincts to come “home.” And come home she does – in the most unexpected way. While older readers will enjoy some of Sweet’s cultural references, kids of all ages will love the lush look and feel of this story. After a dozen readings, there’s still something new to discover – and to delight in – on every page.
A picture book about war sounds like an oxymoron. And parents should take note: How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz ( Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 32 pp.; $16.95; ages 4-8) is not a warm and fuzzy bedtime story. But it’s also not a book about devastation and deprivation. Instead, it shows the triumph of imagination in the face of these challenges – and chronicles the birth of an artist. When Shulevitz and his family flee Poland for Kazakhstan, they manage to escape with their lives – but little else. Food is scarce, and they are culturally isolated. But then Shulevitz’s father brings home a map. Every child loves to imagine, but Shulevitz does so as though his life depends upon it. Decades later, he shares these powerful imaginings through rich, exotic-looking watercolors – transporting the reader to the far-away places that captivated and sustained him. An author’s note at the end provides historical context and a window on the young Shulevitz’s nascent artistic talent.
Jenny Sawyer reviews children’s literature for the Monitor.