The Littlest Bigfoot by & Jennifer Weiner; Simon & Schuster, 289 pages, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12
A dangerous collision between the worlds of the Bigfoot and humans at a summer camp in Upstate New York provides the suspense in best-selling author Jennifer Weiner’s marvelous children’s book debut, but this entertaining story of an unlikely friendship, perfect for the intended middle-school audience, also addresses bullying, body image and staying true to yourself, a concern dear to the author’s heart. (Weiner’s #wearetheswimsuit campaign was intended to show girls what real women’s bodies look like, to help them become more at ease and less self-critical.)
Twelve-year-old Alice Mayfair, who feels cursed with an oversize body (“her hands, big and thick as ham steaks”) and a head of wild reddish hair, has grown up ignored by her wealthy parents on New York’s Upper East Side and sent off to seven different boarding schools where she never seems to fit in and has never found a friend.
That is, until her parents enroll her in “The Experimental Center for Love and Learning,” in the wilds of upstate New York where she saves Millie Maximus, daughter of the Bigfoot tribe hidden across the lake from the camp, from drowning. Weiner does a marvelous job imagining the Bigfoot or “Yare” community with their cautionary tales to Yare children about the dangers posed by contact with No-Furs, including one about the terrible old No-Fur with his red suit trimmed with fur of a tiny baby Yare who steals Yare children’s toys and gives them to the No-Fur children.
Then there is Millie Maximus, who also feels as though she doesn’t belong and dreams of competing in a No-Fur singing contest she has learned about from Old Aunt Yetta who has a stock of VHS tapes and an ancient TV.
Ever the expert at plot, Weiner has come up with a satisfactory way the Yare could have secured Wi-Fi and an electrical connection and a way to ship their goods to the online Etsy store “Into the Woods” where they sell soft scarves, carved birdhouses, “special scrubs and decoctions made with herbs and leaves all labeled ‘organic’ and ‘hand-made’ ” so they can purchase No-Fur goods including “Snickers bars which all Yares love.” Even her Yare lingo is fun: they order “on-the-line” and refer to Kayaks as “yak-boats” This is the first of what promises to be a wonderful trilogy; the cliffhanger ending leaves us anxiously awaiting the next installment.
– Jean Westmoore
Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler; illustrated by Jonathan Bean; Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt; $16.99. Ages 4 to 7.
Our images of the cowboy have come from Hollywood, of a tough, hard-bitten loner, a man’s man, a gunslinger.
This lyrical, lovely ode to the big skies, plains and mountains of the Wild West book paints an entirely new and welcome picture of what it is to be a “cowboy,” what it is to be a man, what it is to be human. Hoefler’s cowboy is attuned to the natural world, the weather, the night, and is in tune with the creatures, horse, dog and cattle “their job is to think of others … how hundreds of moving cattle will feel about the sound of distant thunder”). “real cowboys are gentle” (they know all the songs that keep cattle calm”) “they are good listeners” “they are safe” “real cowboys are patient’ (it can take a long time to get places.”) “real cowboys ask for help” “real cowboys are good to their dogs.” “real cowboys want peace. They don’t want stampedes” Her poetry is perfectly matched with Bean’s delicate illustrations.
– Jean Westmoore