WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: The Patron Thief of Bread

A gargoyle on top of a cathedral. The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar is the story of eight-year-old Duck, who was found in a river as a baby and “adopted” by and cared for by a band of street urchins in Medieval France. The Crowns, a band of young thieves, are the only family Duck has known and even though Gnat, the group’s leader, is not especially fond of her, the group is her family, and they survive by stealing money and food from vendors in street fairs and town markets across their region. Orphaned children were often overlooked, abused, or ignored and thus had to fend for themselves, regardless of how young they were. However, the Crowns were skilled at stealing and thus a threat to other bands. They move from town to town as a way of avoiding bands of older orphans as well as punishment by a town justice once they become too visible in any particular place. Continue reading

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Enriching the Story of Europe’s Middle Ages

By Holly Johnson, Professor Emerita, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A gargoyle on top of a cathedral. Creating a love of history in many young people often feels like a Sisyphean effort with some time periods garnering more attention than others. I personally love the history of the American West, so it came as a big surprise that several of my favorite books for young people focus on Europe’s Middle Ages. With such wonderful literature available, a spark could be lit and young people’s imaginations could take flight. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Wildoak

A sihlouette of a girl is filled in with starry night sky. A snow leopard fills the space of her shoulders.It’s London, 1963 and Maggie Stephens stutters. Because she stutters so badly, Maggie rarely speaks and finds all kinds of ways not to have to speak or read in school. Interestingly, Maggie does not stutter when she speaks to animals. Her parents, concerned (and perhaps a bit embarrassed) about her behavior, wonder if she needs to be treated at Granville, a school for children who don’t seem to fit in to the typical school. Granville is terrifying to Maggie who has heard rumors about how children are beaten if they cry. Looking for a way out of the Granville plan, Maggie agrees to an alternative plan to spend time with her grandfather in Wildoak Forest.

Meanwhile, Rumpus, a snowy leopard for sale at Harrod’s Department Store, is purchased as a birthday present for a woman who seems to have everything. Rumpus is separated from his littermate sister Rosie and is expected to behave like a domesticated cat rather than the wild cat he is. Rumpus is shortly abandoned in none other than the Wildoak Forest, where he and Maggie encounter one another.

The forest is a magical place, and as Maggie’s grandfather notes, it has “Real magic, if you know what I mean.” Her mother thought the air in the forest might be beneficial for Maggie, and in turn, Maggie thinks that maybe, just maybe it would make a difference and her stutter would go away.

But others soon find out about a snowy leopard in Wildoak and his life becomes endangered. Maggie realizes that like herself, time may be running out for Rumpus. Additionally, time may be running out for the forest as well. Copper has been found under the forest and the owner of the land is thinking of mining it. While copper can make the owner rich, mining it is dangerous for the land and those who much remove the ore from the ground.

Bringing together three sentient lives in a race against time, C.C. Harrington’s Wildoak is a story of the interconnectedness of humans, nonhuman animals and the environment, and how we are all dependent upon one another. Told in Maggie’s and Rumpus’ alternating voices, readers are invited into a timeless story of wonder and compassion with an inter-generational relationship that is both beautiful and lovingly respectful. With drawings by Diana Sudyka, the story would make a marvelous read aloud for elementary and middle school students or as a companion piece to Sam Thompson’s Wolfstongue, which also chronicles the interdependence of a young boy who stutters and nonhuman animals. -Recommended by Holly Johnson, Emeritus Professor, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Title: Wildoak
Author: C.C. Harrington
Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
ISBN: 9781338803860
Publisher: Scholastic Press
PubDate: September 20, 2022

Each month a committee of Worlds of Words advisors recommends a book published within the last year. Our hope is to spark conversations on our website and on social media about the book that expand global understandings and perceptions. Please join us by leaving a comment. You can also share your thoughts with us by using the hashtag #WOWRecommends on social media. Check out our alphabetical listing of all the books featured in WOW Recommends.

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In Praise of a Good Book

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A large wolf in a forest walking towards the viewer. In the foreground is the silhouette of a young boy.There are many great books for young people available, and summertime is a great time to take advantage of the books we might have set aside hoping to get to them. Within the numerous books we might read, every now and then there is one that not only brings us pleasure but can have us thinking deeply about the state of the cosmos. Wolfstongue (2021) by Sam Thompson is one such book. I want to take nothing away from any number of books that might also have readers thinking philosophically about the world, but this book awed me in its thoughtfulness and its cosmopolitan way of envisioning the relationship between humans and nonhuman animals, and the role language plays in our often-hierarchical stance toward other species and the power differential displayed within those relationships. In the following paragraphs, I want to share some of the instances that had me contemplating and appreciating the marvels of this book. Continue reading

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Exploring a Fictional Sentience of Two Cats: Haven and Harvey

by Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A gay striped cat with green eyes looks at the viewer from a circle with grass behind it. Framing the cat is a small picture of a bird, a bowl of soup, a woman with short brown hair, and a dog.As I noted earlier this month, an eco-cosmopolitan perspective is one way to address environmental issues, but it is an equally great way to explore the interconnectedness of all inhabitants of the planet. The definition I used was Heise’s (2008) in which she asserts that eco-cosmopolitanism is an “attempt to envision individuals and groups as part of planetary ‘imagined communities’ of both human and nonhuman kinds” (p. 61). Exploring ways in which humans are interconnected with other inhabitants of the earth has often been highlighted through conflict, specifically self against nature, which is an interesting perspective to take since that stance suggests that humans are not part of nature. What a theme to take on with secondary students! But for this blog entry, I want to highlight the connection between humans and two cats, Haven and Harvey. Both these cats give a fascinating entrée into “imagined communities” of being, in Harvey’s case, untamed or wild. In other words, feral. And for Haven, she must confront the outside world as she attempts to save her human companion. Continue reading

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Books for Exploring the Dignity of the Non-Human World

Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Pax by by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon KlassenThe environment has become a critical issue for a majority of people around the world. There are a number of ways to address the issue, and one of those ways is through an eco-cosmopolitan perspective. Eco-cosmopolitanism is “an attempt to envision individuals and groups as part of planetary ‘imagined communities’ of both human and nonhuman kinds” (Heise, 2008, p. 61). In children’s literature, we often get the perspective of an animal or insect. From Peter Rabbit (Potter, 1999) to Watership Down (Adams, 2014) to Charlotte’s Web (White, 2012) to more current texts such as Alice’s Farm (Wood, 2020) and Pax (Pennypacker, 2019), readers are delighted by the antics and/or adventures found within these marvelous examples of non-human creatures interacting in the world. Humorous tales such as the two Skunk and Badger stories (Timberlake, 2020; 2021) make us laugh, while Pax (Pennypacker, 2019), Pax Journey Home (2021) and Charlotte’s Web (White, 2012) can develop empathy for the living things outside the “human” realm. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Borders

Questions of sovereignty, citizenship, and who gets to decide are the central issues in Borders (2021), a graphic novel with expressive colorful illustrations representing a realistic sensibility. A first-person narrative told from the perspective of a young boy, readers follow along on a road trip between the Blackfoot Reserve in Canada to the border between Canada and the United States. Upon reaching the border, those wishing to cross the border either for returning to their own country or entering the visiting country must declare their citizenship. When asked for her citizenship, the boy’s mother responds, “Blackfoot.” This creates a dilemma for the border guards, as she is expected to answer either “Canadian” or “USA.” Because she refuses to claim any citizenship other than her tribal affiliation, the boy and his mother are not allowed in the USA, and are turned back. But once they return to the border crossing into Canada, they not allowed into Canada because the boy’s mother responds in the same way when asked her citizenship. Continue reading

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Picturebooks: The Wisdom Found in Ages

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

The last week of December, and of 2021, is a great time to think about wisdom, and what we can learn not only from the past year, and from those who have lived many years. Four picturebooks highlighted during the last 12 months include the wisdom of the ages—three grandparents and one country leader. I Dream of Popo is the story of a young girl who misses her grandmother when her family moves to the United States from Taiwan. The young protagonist remembers what her grandmother means to her, and what she learned from her grandmother. And while they are able to use technology to “visit” one another, there is still the longing to be with, and to continue to learn from, this very special person. Readers can relate to the wisdom of their own grandparents or older family relatives. There are their family stories to be heard, memories to hold, and love to take with them as they venture out seeking further knowledge and perhaps, wisdom as they grow. Continue reading

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Government Practices & Policies, and the Dangers to Individuals

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH


The four novels this week address issues of government practices and policies and how those initiatives impact human beings. The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Your Heart, My Sky, The Beatryce Prophecy, and Unsettled as a text set are a blend of historical realities, fable/fairytale, as well as legends and cultural traditions. The power of these novels is the ability of the authors to create realistic contexts that are often too familiar while highlighting individuals and their responses to that political context. Each of these narratives invite questions about government programming and the gaps within the lived reality as well as the historical documentation of that programming provides entrée into the study of history itself. Who and what is fore fronted? Who or what is silenced or rendered invisible? How can history be re-envisioned, and in what ways can more of the “story” of history be brought into view? How can students of history look beneath the official narrative and, perhaps, bring about change? How do people actually live within the history given? How does one make a life in dangerous times? Continue reading

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Historical Conflicts and the Toll on People and Other Living Things

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Cover art for Cane Warriors features a blue and black photograph of a young Black boy with an ink drawing of Tacky's Rebellion in the background.

Four of the books from WoW Recommends 2021 address the toll of historical conflict: Cane Warriors, Brother’s Keeper, Cat Man of Aleppo, and They Called Us Enemy. All offer spaces of contemplation and discovery, discussion and decision-making. All are great reads. Continue reading