Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Cat tries out a new disguise in this follow up to Here Comes the Easter Cat. Cat is worried that he has not been nice enough to get a present from Santa. So his solution is to become Santa so that he can give himself a present. Of course, he has to learn how to climb down chimneys, which doesn’t go well. He also has to figure out how to fly without Santa’s magic reindeer. Perhaps a jet pack? He tries giving gifts to children, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fish. He even tries to decorate a tree, but it too ends in disaster. What is one naughty cat to do?
Underwood has created a delightful sequel to her first Cat book. Once again Cat uses signs to communicate with the reader. The voice of the narrator is one of an adult, making this an ideal book to be read aloud by a teacher or parent. The rather disapproving but still encouraging tone of the narrator sets up the humor perfectly and with Underwood’s clear sense of comedic timing, the results are hilarious.
Rueda’s art adds to the zany humor, often serving as the final funny note to a gag. She uses gentle colors and delicate lines, supporting the storyline clearly. Her comedic timing too is wonderfully spot on.
A very funny addition to crowded Christmas picture book shelves, save this one to share aloud on Christmas Eve. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead
A little boy named Sebastian is having a very boring day even though he is up on the top of the roof where he’s never supposed to be. So he decides to head on a journey. First, he packs everything he needs, then he heads for the hot air balloon he made from his grandmother’s afghans and quilts. He sets off and meets a bear next to a leafless tree. He offers the bear a pickle sandwich and the bear joins him on his journey. Flying in the fog, they hear a loud pop and find that a bird has flown into the balloon. They land atop a a colorful worn house where three sisters help them knit their balloon together again. As the three elderly ladies work, they mention the time that they went over the mountain as children and found a rollercoaster. You can guess where they all headed next!
Stead has created a quiet and lovely book here. It is an adventure book, but somehow it is imbued with a gentleness and dreaminess. Perhaps it is the balloon flight, the drifting and silence and quiet of that mode of transportation. Or it could be the fog, the friendly bear, and the three grandmothers. It all adds up to a wonderfully whimsical book that dances along dreamily.
Stead’s illustrations are always a treat. I love that his protagonist is a little boy of color, someone who glows against the background, who is resourceful, smart and creative. The three grandmothers, each with their own color that is also represented in their home, are drawn with a humor that is gentle and gorgeous. The entire book sings of whimsy and imagination.
Ideal for bedtime reading, this book is sure to create dreams of hot air balloon rides and an array of friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
Everything needs energy in order to grow and we also need energy to run machines. This energy comes from the sun though it may be stored as fossil fuels underground. The fossil fuels have stored that energy inside them and it is released when they are burned. This book looks at how sunlight energy is stored in fossil fuels, explaining photosynthesis and the balance of oxygen on the planet. It speaks to the way that oxygen was first released to the atmosphere and the millions of years that it took to create fossil fuels. The book then informs readers about the impact of carbon dioxide on the planet and the resulting climate change. In the end, the book lets readers know that the choice for the future of the planet is theirs.
Bang worked with Chisholm, an award-winning MIT professor on the information in the book. Told from the point of view of the sun, the book takes a clear and scientific tone throughout, enhanced by the more personal point of view. The information is compellingly presented and interesting. The final pages of the book offer even more details about the fossil fuel process for those looking for more in-depth information.
Bang’s illustrations capture the information of graphs along with an artistic feel. She manages to keep it scientific but also speak to the wonder of the process and the beauty of the captured sunlight energy.
This fourth book in their Sunlight series continues the combination of science, beauty and natural wonder. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole
When the Berlin Wall was built, a boy was separated from his father who was on the other side. His mother told him that his father was in a place where life was better. They were not allowed to leave their side of Berlin. The boy dreamed of his father coming and rescuing them, but he knew that was unlikely to happen. So he started to plan ways to get past the wall himself. Other people tried to get past the wall, many of them died in their attempts. But it was worth the risk to see his father once again, so the boy started digging out in the woods near the wall. When the tunnel was ready, the boy led his family to it, but along the way they were stopped by a soldier. Would this be the end of their brave journey to reunite their family?
Cole captures the separation and division caused by the Berlin Wall. He also clearly shows the fierce drive of a family to reunite and be together once again. Told in very simple sentences, the book relies on its fine artwork to carry the story. It is the art that conveys the danger, the deaths and the risks that people took to see loved ones again or to attain freedom.
The art here is exceptional. Cole uses lighting on his pages to show the hope of the West versus the darkness and gray of the other side of the wall. The illustrations are atmospheric and dramatic. They convey the feeling of isolation and the fear.
A strong picture book about the Berlin Wall and the power of family and hope. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
Gorgeously illustrated, this wordless picture book invites readers into a snowy world. A fox finds her way into a village, warm lit against the cold snow that is falling. She is shooed away by several people but discovers an open greenhouse. A little boy sees her enter and brings her a basket of food. Now there is a fox with four baby foxes nursing. Soon after, the mother fox leads her kits to the boy’s room where they plant flowers from the greenhouse into his rug which he discovers in the morning. The five foxes disappear back into the woods.
Done in cut-paper illustrations, the images have a beautiful 3-D quality to them. You want to stroke the page and think that you will be able to lift flaps, so strong are the images. Against the white and gray snow and woods, the characters pop. The fox gloriously orange in the snow and the little boy wearing red.
Camcam lights her paper work beautifully as well, almost as if it were a stage. She conveys the welcoming warmth of the light in the village, the yellow of the windows lit against the storm. More subtly, she plays with shadows and underlighting in specific scenes, showing the cold and the night clearly.
This is a haunting picture book, done with an immense delicacy and skill. Simply beautiful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Hadley Hooper
Henri Matisse grew up in a town in northern France that was cold, gray and dreary. But his mother filled their world with color with the plates that she painted with nature scenes. She also let Henri mix the paint colors. He was also the person who arranged the fruit and flowers that they bought in the market, on the blue and white tablecloth. Red rugs adorned the walls of their house, filling it with color too and making the whole world turn red. Henri also raised pigeons with their iridescent feathers. And all of these elements of his childhood came together in his work as an adult, reflecting the color that one can see in the dreariest of towns.
MacLachlan has written this picture book in an unusual second person, inviting the reader to feel the environment just as Matisse himself did as a child. The slow reveal of the richness of his childhood at home plays beautifully against the original gray and dullness of the outside. It is as if he was given another world to grow up in, one of colors and delight. Though when readers really look at it, it is about small things, tiny touches, being surrounded by paint, and of course the brilliance of pigeons too.
The illustrations by Hooper are rich and saturated with color. Done in a combination of relief printmaking and digital formats, the book has a grounding in the solidity of printmaking that gives it texture and a feeling of tradition. Playing against that is the modern lightness of the little boy, surrounded by the color and delight of his home. It’s an exquisite pairing.
Rich, detailed and delightful, this picture book biography of the inspiration that Matisse found in his childhood home is sure to invite young readers to find their own sources of inspiration around them. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Give and Take by Chris Raschka
A farmer who grows apples discovers a strange little man out in his orchard just as his apples are ready to pick. The little man is named Take and he encourages the farmer to listen to him so that he can have a fine life. Though the farmer already has a fine life, Take promises to make it better. So the farmer goes through his day taking everything. He takes all of his neighbors pumpkins when she offers him some. He takes her advice to make pumpkin soup, and he takes a long hike. Left wishing he had some apples to eat, he kicks out Take the next morning. Then when he visits his orchard that morning, he meets another little man named Give. Give promises to make his life sweeter, so once again the farmer tries. He gives everything away, including his apples and all of his opinions. He is left hungry another night and kicks Give out. But in the morning, he discovers the two little men fighting with one another. Can a farmer outwit these two battling forces?
Raschka has written this picture book with the tone of a fable. Readers will immediately see Take as a selfish force and then think that Give is the angelic voice. But Raschka’s take is more nuanced than that, showing the harm in being too giving with everything in your life and how it can turn toxic and harmful too. He then goes about having his farmer propose a balance of giving and taking in life. The result is a book that has balance, a folkloric rhythm and tone, and is a great read aloud and opportunity for discussion.
Raschka’s illustrations are his trademark flowing and free style. He uses watercolors contained with thick black lines. The bright red of the farmer’s nose and the apples pop on the page along with the pink pig and the orange pumpkins. As always, his book is art, changing with each turn of the page as the story is told.
Perfect for discussions about balance, generosity and greed, this picture book is a great balance of art and folklore itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Based on a Yiddish folksong, this picture book celebrates the thrift, hard work and skills of immigrants to the United States. Told in the first person by the grandchild, this book looks at one man who came to the US and worked hard as a tailor. He met a woman and they got married and he made his own coat for the wedding. He wore it everywhere until finally, it was worn it. So then what did he do? He made it into a jacket. He wore that everywhere and eventually wore it out too. So then he made it into a vest. He then wore that until it was frayed. The book progresses through a necktie and finally a stuffed mouse made from the last of the old fabric and even when that is eventually torn apart, a mouse finds it to be perfect for her nest.
Aylesworth uses a repeating structure throughout this book, first introducing his character of the grandfather and then having him make a garment, wear it out, make another, and start the cycle again. He uses just the right amount of rhythm and rhyme to hold the story together, making the repetition clear and rollicking. It reads like a folk tale, filled with a celebration of one man and his skills at reusing things.
McClintock’s illustrations suit this subject matter perfectly. Her artwork’s vintage feel is right at home here, creating repeating tableaus on the page that reflect the changing time as children grow up and also the process and time of recreating garments from the scraps. Her art shows the loving family, the shrinking deep blue fabric, and the passage of time.
This story of reuse and recycling takes that modern movement and translates it directly into the frugality of our American ancestors. Cleverly written, striking illustrated and a great read aloud, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.
Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
On a moonlit night, a young boy realizes that he’s forgotten to say his prayers and hops out of bed to pray. He notices the beauty of the yellow moon and begins to pray. As the moon crosses the sky, it shines on the different people that the boy prays for. He prays for people with no homes and the moon shines on a woman trying to sleep on a park bench. He prays for wars to end and the moon shines on a man worried about his daughter who is a soldier. He prays for the sick to be healed and the moon shines into a hospital room. He prays that everyone has enough food and the moon shines on a family with empty cupboards and also into a food pantry. He prays for his own family, even his pet turtle. And back in his bed, he prays that the next night he will remember to pray.
Bolden manages to keep this book solely about prayer and the act of praying for others without defining what religion the boy is. Her use of the moon as a unifying factor works well, creating a book that flows along in a natural way. Bolden’s text is done in poetic form, capturing moments of people in need of prayers with a real clarity.
Velasquez’s art is luminous. He captures moonlit rooms and places with a cool but also rich light. He celebrates diversity on the page, the people in the images a rich tapestry of color and ethnicities. The little boy’s earnest face speaks volumes about the importance of prayer.
A nondenominational book about prayers, need and community support, this book celebrates the power of faith in a way that children will easily relate to. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz
This flowing and joyous picture book lists one after another things that make someone happy. Told in rhyming couplets, the book has a jaunty lilt to it that moves it right along. Though it could become stagnant, this list of happy things never does. Instead there are little surprises as the book continues, moments that are funny, others that will have young readers nodding along about how much they too love things like sticky glue or camping trips or double scoops. Perfect for preschoolers to celebrate what makes them happy too, this book is sure to create smiles.
With all of the attention on gratitude journals and seeing that small things in life are what makes us happy, this book fits right in. Schwartz taps into moments of universal joy and also ones that will inspire new additions to the list. She manages to keep each page fresh, listing the things one by one. The font design adds to the cheerful feel as the words are shown straight, curving, and even wiggling along.
The illustrations too carry that cheer with their bright color and plenty of movement and motion. They show people of all races on the page, younger and older children, so everyone will be welcomed to share in the happiness. The images that go from one large one per page to several at a time. Those changes in pace make for a more dynamic read and one that never grows sing-songy at all.
A book that inspires smiles and pure joy, this book will have universal appeal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.