Three Little Peas by Marine Rivoal
Two little peas jump down from their pea plant to get some air. They head out on an adventure across the garden. They visit a cat, some snails, and even try out how it feels to be a flower or a different kind of plant. They go high and low, exploring together. But when they reach a frightening part of the garden filled with insects and animals, they try to run away. Then they find a safe place in the warm soil where they hide. Only to become a large pea plant of their own the next spring, and then one little pea jumps free, making it three little peas.
The story here is simple enough for a toddler to enjoy and they will love going on an adventure along with two charming green peas. The peas pop in their green on the page where everything else is black and white. But oh my, what a black and white world it is! Rivoal does her art using etching and the effect is beautifully layered, almost crystalline forms. The illustrations show below ground as well with rocks and other objects hidden there. Even the blades of grass are lovely in the attention to detail and their grace.
Stunningly lovely and unique illustrations elevate this simple picture book to something magnificent. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham
This is a story of the journey of a sparrow from a rural truck-stop in India to a metropolis in the south. Told in simple writing, readers follow the sparrow as he tries to steal food from a customer of the truck stop. Then he flies aboard a truck carrying bags of rice. The rice is loaded aboard a ship and the sparrow follows the food aboard. They head south and he is able to find food and water on the long slow journey. When the sparrow arrives in the city, he spots Edie Irvine, a toddler walking with her grandparents. And so the two worlds of sparrow and child mash together in a wonderfully sweet way.
Graham has created a story built upon little moments and small decisions. Happily, the culmination of the story is not about all of those moments building to something monumental, but instead they lead to another small and lovely moment. In that way, the chain is continued rather than ended and readers can think about what might happen next to either the characters or to themselves.
As always, Graham has written this book with a gentle touch. His art reflects that as well with its soft color palette set against white backgrounds blushed with colors. Graham also uses art to allow moments to linger longer, to show their importance, and to create drama in his story.
A book of small moments that is certainly worth spending some time of your own reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
A little girl gets to know a bear who comes from somewhere that he calls The Land of Bears. Breakfasts there are sweet as honey, the land is vast, and the rivers are lovely for swimming. Even the naps are better there, they go on for months. But he can never return there, since he is in a zoo. So the little girl has an idea, something that will let him feel a connection with the wilderness and something that she can set free. It’s a powerful idea too.
Johnson tells this story in very short sentences, which one might think would be terse but instead feel slow and Zen-like. It is a book about a girl who is forging her own connections with animals, making her own decisions too. There are no adults in the story, just one little girl and one huge hairy bear. It is a book about small choices making a big difference in the world. It is simple and luminous.
Johnson’s illustrations have a wonderful light touch to them. The pages with the huge bear can be dark and filled with fur, but then the book opens to a new page filled with white and lightness. They are studies in contrast but also create a book that is a joy to read through with changes of feel from one page to the next.
An empowering story about one little girl and her connection with one big bear and the beauty of freedom. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.
Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive. The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals. She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better. From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch. A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food. As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese. All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way. As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.
Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season. Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one. Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor. Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.
The art from LaMarche is stunning. He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons. They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter. He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl. It is extraordinary.
Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Father’s Chinese Opera by Rich Lo
A first person account of a little boy who spent a summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera in Hong Kong. He watched the actors, the orchestra, and all of the vibrant action of the acrobats. The boy approached the top acrobatic actor and asked if he would train him. He promised to work hard to learn all of the complicated movements. After practicing for awhile, the boy announced that he was ready for the stage now, but his trainer laughed at him. The boy was heartbroken until his father explained that it had taken him many steps of training to earn the right to lead the opera. So the boy began again, this time starting in the lowly role of flag boy onstage but also adding his own movements too.
Lo reveals in his Author’s Note that he grew up with his father taking him to the theater for opera rehearsals and performances. This book captures the dreams of a young boy and his wish to not only be like his father but also to be on stage and perform. The focus on hard work and determination is clear in this picture book and is presented in an approachable way for young readers.
The illustrations by Lo are bright and filled with movement. He captures the acrobats in mid-flip on the page. The costumes shine on the page, the rainbow of colors rich against the white background. He uses flowing lines to crate motion and watercolors that are bright and flow together.
An impressive look behind the scenes at a Chinese opera and a lesson in hard work as well, this picture book will be enjoyed by teachers and children alike. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Wow! Misty Copeland, soloist at American Ballet Theatre, is only their second African-American soloist in their history and the first in more than 20 years. Here she writes her debut picture book and through it encourages other young dancers of color. Lest you think this is a book just for dancers, it is not. It is for anyone who needs to hear a voice of success speak about how important dedication and hard work is to creating that success. Copeland tells it all in poetry that soars and dances just as she does. This is a beautiful book of inspiration that reaches far beyond dance.
Copeland’s verse is exceptional. It is hard to believe that poetry with this much control and beauty comes from someone who has not written many books. It is shining verse that lifts the reader up and invites them to leap across the page along with Copeland. She weaves lovely metaphors throughout her words, “stitching worn-out slippers, swift as applause” is one of my favorites and it is just as vivid and unique as Copeland herself.
Myers art is a lush mix of media that is just as radiant as the verse. The pages are filled with Copeland and young African-American dancers who fly across the pages. Myers creates motion on the page with his strips of paper that frame as well as enliven the illustrations.
A magnificent picture book for young dancers that will inspire them to see joy in dance and also to understand the dedication it will take to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.
Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wednesday by Anne Bertier
Little Round and Big Square are the best of friends. Every week on Wednesday, they get together to play their favorite game: one of them says a word and they both transform into it. Big Square starts with “butterfly” and the two of them change into butterflies, Big Square with sharp angles and Little Round with half circles. They go through “flower” and “mushroom” until Big Square gets carried away and starts naming lots of different things all at once, things that Little Round can’t shift into. Soon the friends are arguing, but just like with any friendship there are rough patches and they both have to figure out how to fix it.
Done in just two colors, the dot and the square and the many shapes they make pop on the page, the blue and orange contrasting vibrantly on the white background. It is the illustrations that tell the story here, and the strong style they are done in is striking. Children will immediately relate to both the square and the circle. They may not have faces, but they convey emotions clearly on the page from anger to exuberance to friendship.
Strong and vibrant, this picture book translated from the French, is a great pick for units on friendship or shapes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster
A little girl believes that her mother is a witch and that she is her mother’s black cat. Dressed in a cat costume, the little girl gives examples of the witchy things that her mother does each day. She has potions in the bathroom that the little girl isn’t allowed to touch. She buys weird things at the grocery store. She goes magical herbs (like carrots) in her garden that she then uses to make potions in the kitchen. She has a group of friends who come over and they cackle together. All of these examples are shown in the pictures to be completely normal and easily explained. But a nice little twist at the end of the book will have readers wondering if perhaps there’s some truth to her mother being a good witch!
Told entirely in first person by the unnamed little girl, this book is jaunty and playful. It is a very positive depiction of a family of two, their interactions together glow with warmth and connection. The dynamic between the beliefs of the little girl about her mother and the mundane truths shown in the illustrations will have children trying to figure out whether the mother is a witch or not. It’s a simple premise for a book that lets the unique illustrations shine.
And what illustrations they are! Muncaster has created miniature worlds out of paper, fabric and other materials and then photographed them for the illustrations. They have a wonderful wit and dazzle to them. At first the 3D effect is subtle enough to be missed, but once it catches your eye you will be entranced with these unique and lovely illustrations.
Filled with Halloween magic, this book is one amazing treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.