Book Bag: ‘Hector Fox and the Daring Flight’ by Astrid Sheckels; ‘BOTIJA’ by Andrea Veras; ‘True You’ by Gwen Agna and Shelley Rotner; ‘How to Sleep Tight Through the Night’ by Tzivia Gover & Lesléa Newman

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2022 2:16:40 PM

Hector Fox and the Daring Flight

Written and illustrated by Astrid Sheckels

Islandport Press

Greenfield artist and children’s book author Astrid Sheckels’ newest book is her third in a series that features a close group of furry friends — a fox, a marten, a chipmunk, a skunk and a rabbit — who live in a woodland and have a series of adventures. Their headquarters, so to speak, is the cozy home of Hector Fox, who lives in hollow tree.

In the new tale, the friends are having fun flying a kite, which gets some of them thinking they should try and invent some kind of flying machine themselves. Another animal in the woods, Amos Beaver, tells them they’re bound to fail. But then, after Lucy Skunk asks him to help, Amos agrees to bring his engineering skills to the job: “I guess I could give you some pointers.”

With Amos’ help, Hector and friends construct a winged, lightweight machine, but only Charlie Chipmunk is small enough to get aboard it. At first all goes well. But then the machine proves so nimble that, like a giant kite, it goes and higher. “Help!” screams Charlie.

All the animals grab onto the machine’s trailing rope to try and bring it down, but instead they’re all borne into the sky as the flying contraption veers along crazily — and then speeds straight at some trees! How will they survive this?

The “Hector Fox” series is aimed at readers ages 3 to 7, and they’ll no doubt enjoy a story about friends who work together to solve problems. Sheckels’ watercolor paintings include both warm, hazy colors and sharp detail, a style she calls “a mix of classic realism and whimsy.”

BOTIJA: A Lost and Found Treasure

Written and illustrated by Andrea Veras


A native of the Dominican Republic, Andrea Veras later moved to New York City and then to the Valley, earning two college degrees and working variously as a paralegal, a translator and a community activist.

Veras took up painting and drawing in the last several years, studying at the Hill Institute in Florence, and last year she put that experience to work, publishing her first children’s book, the dual language (English and Spanish) story “A Doll for Christmas/Una Muñeca para Navidad,” a story set in the Dominican Republic.

Veras has returned with “BOTIJA: A Lost and Found Treasure,” a story about a Dominican family that takes a trip to the country and learns about the Taínos, the Indigenous people originally on the island of Hispaniola, the site today of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Nine-year-old Carlos narrates the story, sharing his excitement about the impending trip with his cousin Daniel and other extended family members to fish, swim and hike. One evening, they hear a strange tale, told by a neighbor, a Mr. Polanco, about botijas, clay jars that Spanish settlers brought to the New World to transport olive oil.

The Taínos, Mr. Polanco says, used empty botijas to hold water and molasses, while the Spanish settlers used theirs to store money, often hiding treasures in the ground or the walls of their homes. That’s a point Veras uses to examine the culture and practices of the Taínos, as well as the devastating losses they suffered from Spanish violence and diseases.

And those buried botijas full of money? Mr. Polanco tells his listeners of the weird things desire for money can do, including a tale of a man who was thought to be dead but came back at night to search for his money.

With colorful, folk-art style paintings and her mix of fiction and history, Veras creates an enjoyable read with “BOTIJA: A Lost and Found Treasure.”


True You: A Gender Journey

Written by Gwen Agna and Shelley Rotner

Photographs by Shelley Rotner

Clarion Books


Longtime Valley educators Gwen Agna and Shelley Rotner have combined forces for a kids’ book that tackles a subject now a flashpoint in some U.S. schools and communities: gender identity.

In “True You,” Agna, the former principal of Jackson Street School in Northampton, and Rotner, a former museum educator who writes and illustrates children’s books, make the case, in kids’ own words, that it’s OK to feel like you’re a boy even through you were born a girl, and vice versa.

“We are kids!” the introductory text reads. “Girls, boys, neither, both, or just not sure.”

“There are different ways to show and be who you are,” reads a passage next to the photo of one smiling, thoughtful-looking child. “It’s up to you — how you feel, how you dress, how you act, how you play, learn, and love.”

The book’s creators explain that with permission from parents, the children photographed in the book were also recorded and their thoughts transcribed for the text. The message they hope to send is that people can come in all manner of appearance, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

“True You” includes additional information for readers, such as a glossary of words and expressions concerning gender identity and online resources. Agna and Rotner also add an authors’ note about how they created the book, saying “We would love for this book to serve as a catalyst for reflective conversation for children and grown-ups alike.”


How to Sleep Tight Through the Night

by Tzivia Gover & Lesléa Newman

Illustrated by Vivian Mineker

Storey Publishing


In a world that increasingly seems dominated by cell phones, TVs and bad news, two Valley writers have also combined forces for another book, “How to Sleep Tight Through the Night,” which is designed to help kids overcome problems in falling and staying asleep.

Tzivia Gover, a dreamwork professional who has written about that subject, and poet and children’s author Lesléa Newman, lay out a range of strategies — like imagining your bed is a raft floating down a river — that children can consider if they’re having trouble falling asleep.

Rather than counting sheep to fall asleep, they say, think about thanking all the people and things you’re grateful for, from friends to grandpa to nature. You can also try counting backwards, or think of as many words as you can that begin with each letter of the alphabet.

The book offers tips as well on how to understand a dream, or not be frightened by a bad one. And before you go to bed, the authors write, you can “swap plugs for pages” — read a story instead of watching TV or staring at a cell phone so that you can slow your brain down.

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