Heartwood Hotel Book 1: A True Home by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, 173 pp, RL 3

I love a good forest story. I was enchanted by the (slightly weird) world of Beatrix Potter as a child and spent many hours imagining life in Toad Hall, Ratty's waterside home and Badger's complex burrow deep in the Wild Wood. I even created the label Forest Story to keep track of books in this genre I reviewed. And, while there aren't a lot of books that come along in the precise vein of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows Kallie George's new series, Heartwood Hotel, with charming illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, is a marvelous forest story with the kind of caring, friendship and community that you find in Grahame's book. And, be sure to check out the equally charming and wonderful Heartwood Hotel website for these books where you can learn more about the hotel (the staff, the menu, the rooms) and print out creative activities that let readers design a room for the hotel, create a menu and craft a miniature suitcase!

In the first book in the series, A True Home, we meet Mona Mouse, a timid traveler looking for a home. All she carries with her is a small, walnut shell suitcase with a heart etched on it, the only keepsake she has to remember her lost family by. Flooded out of one home and intimidated by the bear who hibernated in her most recent home, she finds her way to a tree with a heart etched on the trunk. Pushing on it, she discovers the hidden entrance to the Heartwood Hotel.

Founded by a kindhearted, widowed badger who speaks in rhyme, the hotel is meant to be a safe haven for traveling animals with the motto, "We live by "'Protect and Respect,' not by 'Tooth and Claw.'" The hotel, with balconies and a ballroom, a kitchen and garden, is equipped for almost any kind of guest. There are nest beds and perches for birds, mattresses made out of all kinds of stuffing for all kinds of animals and an array of foods from toasted seedcakes to juniper berries and licorice tea and honey by the cupful. George and Graegin do a marvelous job bringing this woodland haven vividly to life on the page.

Mona is taken in by Mr. Heartwood and offered a job helping Tilly, a red squirrel with a big chip on her shoulder, while the head housekeeper, Mrs. Higgins's recovers from a cold. Mona listens to the wisdom of her elders and works her hardest to honor the kindnesses offered her while laboring under the sharp eye of Tilly, who always seems to have a criticism for her. The Heartwood Hotel makes its fortune and, hopefully, reputation with festivals for each season. The Acorn Festival is over and preparations for the Festival of the First Snow are underway when danger shakes this safe haven. Mona surprises herself and everyone else at the hotel with an act of bravery and smarts that saves the festival and reputation of the Heartwood Hotel.

A True Home is a fantastic read out loud for younger readers and a great chapter book for emerging readers ready to tackle a longer story on their own. Happily, the second book in the Heartwood Hotel series, The Greatest Gift, is available now, too!

 Source: Review Copy

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