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Book Review: Coffee Stain Critters: You Can’t Unring the Bell by Karla Lepard

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Coffee Stain Critters: You Can’t Unring the Bell is a thoroughly charming storybook. A large part of its charm lies in its format. The book begins by telling of an elderly woman living alone, confined to a wheelchair. A nurse helps her and takes care of her. One day the woman looks at the coffee stains on her napkin and used her pencil to transform them into “critters.”  

The Coffee Stain Critters’ adventure begins, and the woman’s goes on the backburner. This is a tale of friendship, acceptance, understanding, regrets, and tolerance starring a few dogs, rabbits, and woodland creatures, including a “snow snake.”

Once the animals’ story has been told, the book returns to the elderly woman, and ends with a sweet surprise. What makes this charming is that the woman actually existed; she was the author’s grandmother-in-law, who had been an artist working in watercolors before she broke her hip and was unable to walk. She saved her napkin drawings and gave them to author Karla Lepard, who based Coffee Stain Critters on both the woman and her drawings.

Illustrated by Vuthy Kuon and Manuel Gomez, Coffee Stain Critters details a day in the life of some anthropomorphic friends who were looking forward to a race up the mountain. One of the friends, a beagle, was consumed with winning the race. A dachshund from the other side of the mountain joined the group, but got a cool reception from someone because she “didn’t belong there.”

The winner of the race would be able to ring a bell at the top of the mountain, and the beagle very much wanted to be the one to do so. He finally learns that winning isn’t the only thing, and realizes the value of friendship.

Kuon and Gomez’s illustrations are all warm earth-tones—soft animals with liquid eyes that convey a surprising depth of feeling. Karla Lepard has been a teacher for 27 years and especially enjoys watching children discover the joy of reading. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Coffee Stain Critters will be donated to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

Bottom Line: Would I buy Coffee Stain Critters: You Can’t Unring the Bell? Yes, it would make a nice gift for a certain someone who loves animals and snow. Reading level is 9-12 years.

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