Such a Little Mouse by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Stephanie Yue
A little mouse lives in a hole in a meadow under a clump of dandelions. In the spring, he heads out of his home and explores the area around him. He sees a snail, a woodpecker and buzzing bees. He also sees himself reflected in a puddle. And each day he brings home a seed that he stores away in his storeroom. In the summer, the little mouse watches beavers building a dam in the pond, visits a toad, and sees a porcupine. He brings a sprig of watercress home each day and adds that to his storeroom. In autumn, the little mouse watches geese flying, ants marching, and brings home an acorn to his storeroom which is filling up. In winter snow falls and the little mouse can’t see the grass anymore. He heads right back into his hole and stays there, well fed and warm.
This picture book explores seasons and the changes seasons bring in nature from a gentle and cheerful mouse perspective. It captures the natural rhythms by echoing them in the writing. Little mouse leaves his hole the same way no matter what the season, by counting to three and popping out. Then he explores, discovering three things in nature to pay attention to. Some small and some large. Schertle’s tone invites young readers to take a look at the nature outside their own holes and visit it each day to see the changing seasons.
Yue’s illustrations also show nature as a place to safely visit and explore. The illustrations celebrate nature and its beauty and variety. They also pay homage to classic stories like Peter Rabbit while down in the mouse’s burrow with his homey furniture and then his baking and soup making in the winter months.
A simple story, but one that has a wonderful rhythm and poetry to it that moves it to the top of the large pile of seasonal stories. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Sadie knows that you can’t just put an elephant in the mailbox, instead you have to go to the post office. So she heads there to see how many stamps it will take to send the elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine who lives alone and could use the company. It takes far too many stamps and too much money to mail the elephant, so Sadie looks for another solution and decides to fly. But elephants are heavy and the plane sputters out and crashes before they reach their destination. Sadie asks a nearby alligator to guide them down the river and then jumps aboard a train where a group of monkey bandits armed with bananas try to rob them. Sadie and elephant join them and have a great time until they tire of eating beans for every meal. Finally, they board an ice cream truck after purchasing ice cream sandwiches for the bandits and arrive at Great-Aunt Josephine’s. However, she may not be as lonely as Sadie thought!
Stead has written a rich imaginative tale that takes readers on a wild journey. Sadie is undaunted by adversity, simply figuring out what to do next to get them closer to their destination. The entire book is unhindered by logic like pilot licenses and the thought of mailing an elephant. Instead the world in this picture book is filled with an off-center zing that means each of Sadie’s original ideas are embraced by everyone. It’s a refreshing and fun approach to the story.
Cordell’s illustrations are wonderfully scribbly and loose. They capture the wild spirit of the book, the silliness and the move from one awesome idea to the next. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations of the post office and the great-aunt’s home. Both are simply people standing underneath trees that are shedding their leaves. This cheery openness and connection to nature immediately will have every reader knowing that this is an unconventional book.
A terrific picture book that offers up a cheery, silly and fun-filled journey with an elephant as a companion. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen, illustrated by Emmanuelle Walker
This alphabet book features one amazing bird after another shown in both playful and gorgeous illustrations. The book is told in rhyming couplets that feature a little information about each species of bird. The birds are exotic, featuring jacana, kakapo, and quetzal. They are mixed with backyard birds like robin, geese, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Each one is given their own page on which to shine.
The rhyming couplets create a book that has a jaunty swing to it, moving swiftly from one bird to the next. The rhymes are well done, neither filled with sing-song tones or too forced. Instead they add a touch of humor to the book, a feeling of not taking themselves too seriously. The result is a light-hearted mix of silliness and feathers.
The illustrations by Walker form the heart of this book. Each page displays plumage with a grand style. Done with a modern feel, the illustrations are stylized and strong. One of my favorite pages has the color of doves changing to ducks along the page break.
Stylish, jaunty and fun, this alphabet bird book is no feather weight. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Flying Eye Books.
When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy
Head outside on a windy day in this breezy picture book. When the wind chimes start to ring, a family excitedly gets ready to go outside into the fresh air. Together a little boy and his grandmother fly a kite that eventually breaks free and rides off on the wind. The wind blows the grass and flowers. It also sends the sailboats out on the water racing. The wind gets even stronger and a storm moves in with thunder and rain. They head back home into the bright warm lights of the house. There they are cozy and protected, unworried about the storm that continues outside. It is night when the storm clears and everyone is asleep.
Told in short rhyming lines of poetry, this picture book manages to be fresh and fun rather than stilted in any way. The rhymes and their rhythms offer a dynamic edge to the book, creating movement that echoes that of the wind in the words themselves. The attention is on both humans enjoying the breezy weather and also nature as the storm moves in. This is an invitation to head out into changing weather.
Christy’s illustrations are gorgeous. They have vivid colors and capture the movement of the wind. Just seeing the images evokes wind and breeze, as if fresh air is lifting off each page as you read. She also captures the joy of being out in weather, the fun of wild wind and the beauty of oncoming storms.
A beautiful look at weather, wind and rain that will have everyone looking for their kites on the next breezy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Finding Spring by Carin Berger
Maurice is a little bear cub who can’t stop thinking about spring. It may be time for him to go to sleep in the warm cave with his mother, but he stays awake and sneaks out of the cave to search for signs of spring. As he heads through the forest, he meets other animals all busily preparing for the winter. They don’t have time to talk to him for long but find time to warn him that spring’s arrival will take some time. Maurice smells something new on the air and runs towards it, thinking it is spring. When a snowflake falls, he is sure it is spring arriving so he scoops up some snow to keep spring with him and heads back to his mother to sleep. When he awakes in the warmer weather though, his piece of spring has disappeared. But in the end, Maurice manages to find spring all around him.
This picture book has a very simple story with elements that children will relate to. From not wanting to go to bed to the beauty of nature, this book celebrates it all. It is a book of curiosity, adventures and making your own discoveries along the way.
What makes this book exceptional are the illustrations. Berger works in cut paper and collage, creating dioramas that have dimension and shadows. The cut paper contains fragments of words and lovely textures. I particularly love the reverse side of a letter on gray paper being the flowing water in a stream. Throughout the book there are touches like this that work beautifully visually and are artistically inspired.
A lovely new springtime read, this picture book celebrates the seasons of winter and spring side by side. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas
Released March 1, 2015
Jessica can’t sleep, it’s the day before her first day of school. The next day her parents assure her that she will make lots of friends, and Jessica had a plan to make sure that happened. In a box on her lap, she carried her teddy bear to school, but when she revealed it later in the day, kids laughed at her or just walked away. The next day, Jessica put something else in her box and headed to school. But the cupcakes in the box disappeared quickly without so much as a thank you from the kids. The third day of school, Jessica snuck her dog into class. Doris was very popular, but dogs weren’t allowed at school. By the fourth day, Jessica was dejected. She dragged her box to school empty and then put it over her head. And that’s when Jessica figured out exactly what she should have had in her box all along, something very special indeed.
Carnavas tells a very successful story here. I love that the main character is in a wheelchair and yet the story is not about her disability. It’s a first-day-of-school story and a making-friends story instead. Also throughout the book she is shown as entirely capable and not needing help, except for a little encouragement of different sorts from her family members that any child would want and need. The use of the box is smartly done, using it both as a metaphor and also as a way to build suspense for the reader about what is being taken to school that day.
The art is friendly and colorful, also helping build suspense with page turns that lead into the reveal of what’s in the box. Carnavas shows loneliness very nicely on the page, isolating Jessica clearly on the white background. He also shows connections in a gentle way, displaying a subtlety that is particularly nice on the page with Jessica and her father being quiet together.
A very inclusive book about school jitters and making friends, this will be a nice read aloud to share with kids about to enter school. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Kane Miller.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.
De la Pena is best known for his young adult books. This is the second picture book he has written. One would never know that this is not his specialty. His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage. They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.
A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.
This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.
The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.
An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver
Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.
Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.
Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.
A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Violence was a large part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. However in Huntsville, Alabama something quite different happened, quietly and successfully. They managed through cooperation, quiet civil disobedience, and courage to stand up for what was right for all members of their community. There were lunchroom protests where young black people sat at the counters they were not allowed to eat at. There were marches with signs. There were arrests, even one of a mother with an infant that gained national news. There were lovely protests like refusing to purchase new clothes for Easter and instead dressing in blue jeans to deny some stores their business. There were balloons with messages of coming together even as a segregationist ran for governor. There were brave children who attended schools where they were the only people of color. Yet it all happened in a community of support and with no violence at all.
Bass emphasizes throughout her book that there were challenges in the society and reasons for protest. Time and again though just as the reader thinks things will be more rough and confrontational, it abates and progress is made. Her use of details from the other cities in Alabama as well as the national Civil Rights Movement will show children how violent the struggles often were. It is against that backdrop that the progress in Huntsville really shines.
Lewis’s paintings also shine. He captures the strength and determination of those working for their civil rights. On each page there is hope from the children reaching to the sky with their balloons to the one black child in the class and his smile. It all captures both the solemnity of the struggle and the power of achieving change.
Beautifully told and illustrated, this nonfiction picture book offers a compelling story about a community’s willingness to change without violence. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.