The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop. Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party. Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes. Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined. So her mother sends her out to get more sugar. On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest. It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party. Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party. But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.
This clever picture book shows different elements of a community. There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too. Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.
The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops. She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures. Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.
Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
Released August 19, 2014.
Even as a child, Edward Hopper lived as an artist. He spent his days drawing as much as he could, preferring drawing to playing baseball with the other boys. After high school, he headed off to New York City to study art. Then Hopper went to Paris to learn even more, spending time painting outside. When he returned to the US, he got a job as an illustrator for magazines, but wanted to spend time painting what he wanted to, not for others. He started painting old houses in his work and after getting married he spent time wandering the countryside on Cape Cod, finding scenes that moved him and they weren’t the typical images of gardens and farms. He also painted things in the city that spoke to him. Eventually the critics and galleries discovered Hopper and he gained attention, but it didn’t change him, even his final work speaks to his unique vision and approach.
Burleigh has written a book about an important American painter but even more than that, he has captured the small things that made him great. The book speaks to the importance of allowing yourself time to learn a craft and getting an education. It also speaks to staying true to yourself and your vision whether it is accepted at the time or not. And then there is the importance of perseverance and following your dream even if it doesn’t make a lot of money. Hopper teaches all of this in his quiet way.
Minor’s artwork shines in this picture book. He brilliantly captures the feel of Hopper’s work without copying it directly but these images are also clearly Minor’s own as well. Pictures of some of Hopper’s most famous work is shared at the end of the book and it is there that one realizes what a profound mix of two artists’ work has happened here.
A very strong addition to the growing collection of picture book biographies about artists, this book has much to offer budding young artists as well as art classes. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Wendell Minor.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
The author of A Tangle of Knots returns with a brilliant new protagonist in her new novel. Albie doesn’t get good grades, in fact he was asked to leave his private school and is going to be starting public school instead. Albie isn’t the best artist. He isn’t the best at anything at all. Except maybe at eating doughnuts for breakfast. But when he changes schools, things start to change for Albie. It could be the great new babysitter he gets, since his parents are very busy. Calista is an artist and she thinks it’s OK that Albie reads Captain Underpants books even though he’s in 5th grade and that he sometimes needs a break from school. It could be math club, that starts each day with a joke and sneaks math in when Albie isn’t paying attention. It could be a new best friend, Betsy, someone he can talk to and joke with and who doesn’t get mad when Albie gets confused. But things aren’t all great. Albie’s other best friend is appearing on a reality TV show and suddenly Albie gets popular at school, risking his friendship with Betsy. Albie has a lot to figure out before he knows exactly what he’s good at.
Graff’s writing here is stellar. She writes with an ease that makes for a breezy read, yet it deals with deep issues along the way. Thanks to her light touch, the book reads quickly, never bogging down into the issues for too long before lightening again. Still, it is the presence of those deep issues that make this such a compelling read. The fact that the book deals with so much yet never feels overwhelmed by any of them is a wonder and a feat.
Throughout the entire book the real hero is Albie. He is a character that is ordinary, every-day and yet is still a delight to read about. His perspective is down to earth, often confused, and he walks right into every social trap there is. He is a character you simply have to root for, a regular boy who is also a hero. He shows that simply making it through each day being yourself is heroic, and a win. The world is filled with Albies and this book shows why they should be celebrated. He’s a delight.
A book with at least four starred reviews, this is a standout novel this year. Get your hands on it and share it with kids. It’s a unique and surprising read, just like Albie himself. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
In a gritty city filled with dust and yellow wind, a girl survives by stealing from other poor people. Her life was just as dust filled and ugly as the city around her. Then one night, she saw an old frail woman with a fat bag walking along. She would be an easy mark, so the girl tried to get the bag away from her. The old woman held on tightly, but eventually asked the girl to promise to plant them and she could have the bag. The girl promised. In the bag were only acorns, nothing to eat, no money to spend, but a wealth of trees. So the girl started planting them one by one, and nothing changed for a long time. Then green sprouts started to appear, then trees grew and green returned to the broken city. But the girl had already left, going to other cities that needed a forest too. Until one night she had her fat bag of acorns with her, and a young person tried to steal it from her. All it took was another promise and she let them have the bag.
This allegory is lovely. The setting is hauntingly familiar, a war zone where all that is left behind is the dust and rubble of war and people who cannot escape the city or see a future beyond it. The transformation of the theft of property into a promise is stunning. Simple and profound, it is courage, passion and change all wrapped into a single act. I also love the moments before the trees appear, the anticipation, the question of whether it will work, the effort before the payoff. And then the fact that the girl leaves to go to other cities, makes this entire story less about her than about her deeds. It’s one intelligently written book that works so well.
Carlin’s illustrations are done in muted grays and sands, they are images that suck the color out of the day, cover you in their dust. And yet, they are also filled with hope. When that first green hits the page, it’s like you can smell it in the air. Then the transformation that is so colorful, so fresh.
This radiant allegory would be appropriate for classrooms learning about allegories or about peace. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro
In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar. They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden. Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read. On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering. Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away. But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night? It will take an entire town to save them.
Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book. Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well. The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support. That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.
Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them. Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community.
This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.
Comics Squad: Recess!
Released July 8, 2014.
Join your favorite children’s graphic novel authors as they romp together in a celebration of recess! This graphic novel has been contributed to by authors like Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Dan Santat, Gene Luen Yang, and Raina Telgemeier. Favorite characters like Lunch Lady and Babymouse make an appearance in their own stories as well as appearing throughout the book with a little commentary. In other stories, new characters make their first appearance which will delight young fans.
It’s hard to be too enthusiastic about this title, since young readers are sure to adore it. The release in mid-summer is ideal since this will make great summer reading, though it will also be a great addition to any school library or classroom. Put together cleverly, the book has a nice flow to it and a brisk pace that will have even reluctant readers eagerly turning the pages.
Get multiple copies of this one, since it’s sure to be a hit! Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway
Pigsticks hasn’t done anything with his life yet, unlike his very distinguished ancestors. So he decides that he will travel to the Ends of the Earth but unlike his forepig, he will make it back alive. Pigsticks quickly realizes that he will need an assistant, someone to carry all of his gear and cook. Everyone in town came for an interview, but Pigsticks could not find the right person for the job. That is until Harold the hamster showed up with a misdelivered package. Harold wasn’t sure he wanted to be Harold’s assistant, but after much negotiation involving how many cakes would be brought on the journey (three of them) Harold agreed. The two set off the next day, fording rivers, marching through jungles, crossing frail bridges across deep ravines, and then entering a vast desert before climbing an immense snowy mountain. It’s a journey filled with mishaps and perils, most of which befall Harold, on their way to the elusive Ends of the Earth.
Milway has created a very clever early reader that will have new readers giggling right along. Pigsticks is a wonderfully inattentive character, never noticing the various perils that Harold is facing along the way. One might think be would come off very negatively, but he actually is a likeable character throughout, just a little self-absorbed. Harold on the other hand is the voice of sanity on the trip, the one who sees danger ahead, but also the one doomed to not be listened to. Their odd relationship works well in this book, creating very funny moments with just the right tone and humor for the age group.
Milway’s art is clever and cartoony. He uses the art to fill in much of the story and provides art throughout at just the right amount to make the book appealing to new readers who are daunted by full-text pages. The art adds to the zany humor of the text and further builds the dynamic between the two characters.
Funny, clever and cake-filled, this quest to the Ends of the Earth is sure to “end” up as a new reader favorite. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Candlewick Press and NetGalley.
All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Celebrate the beauty of freedom in this book dedicated to Juneteenth. Told from the point of view of a young girl, the story is about the first Juneteenth, the day that freedom was first announced for the last of the slaves in the South. Living in shacks on a plantation in Texas, the day is just another day for the girl and her family and the rest of the slaves. They worked hard in the hot sun, not knowing that word of their freedom was steadily heading their way. Then the news arrived and people reacted in different ways, but quickly they pulled their things together and left the plantation behind for freedom. Now June 19th is celebrated as African American Emancipation Day across the United States. It’s a joy to have such a beautiful picture book to give to children to explain Juneteenth and why it means so much.
Johnson manages somehow to show slavery in all of its bone-grinding hard work and lack of freedom but also infuse it with moments of beauty, like waking to the scent of honeysuckle. Her words are poetry on the page, spare and important, speaking volumes in only a few phrases. The book ends with a timeline of important events and a glossary of relevant terms, making this a very useful book as well as lovely.
Lewis’ illustrations are beautiful. He plays with light and dark on the page, allowing the light of the hot Texas day to fill the tiny shack but also making sure that the barrenness is evident and the poverty. The book is filled with light, the sky burned to a pale yellow. Until darkness which has a richness and endlessness that is sumptuous. There is such hope on these pages, almost achingly so, particularly as freedom is announced and they turn their faces to a new future.
Beautiful and timely, this book will be welcome in library collections across the country as one of the only picture books about this holiday. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker by Jose Manuel Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martinez Pedro
In this bilingual book, a boy from Mexico talks about the changes in his family and his village as people leave Mexico to find work in the United States. The story begins with the boy speaking about his village and how it used to be as a farming community with small farms where he would play. But then things changed and soon the village was just women and children with all of the men gone to find work elsewhere. When his mother was unable to find work in the village and his father’s money stopped arriving, the had no choice but to leave too. The story changes to one of escape, hiding and running, one that mirrors that boy’s games as a small child, but they are no longer fun here. The family makes it safely to Los Angeles, but there are new barriers in the way with the new country.
Told in a unique vertical format that echoes the ancient codex, this book uses its format to great effect. First, it mirrors the sense of a journey across distances, across cultures. Just opening this book feel different and special and then the length of the single page captures that sense of travel and quest. The voice of the book is also exquisitely done. The boy looking back on his childhood, seeing the changes and then the contrast of his childhood with the frightening present is filled with a taut tension that never goes away.
Even as I gush about the writing, I can’t say enough about the art. Done in a single pane that continues through the entire vertical book, it shows the village, the train that allows their escape, and finally LA. The art has an ancient feel to it, filled with tiny details, many people, plants, houses, and more. It’s a tribute to the history of Mexico, the thousands of people who cross the border, and the beauty of their courage.
Unique and incredibly lovely, this book is one that won’t work in public libraries due to the format. But it’s one that is worth celebrating despite that limitation. Get this in special collections! Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.