Google Alerts can be hit and miss, but this one struck me as one of the best children’s lit fails ever:
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Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars. It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired. He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us. He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them. Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars. This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.
Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers. She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests. She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television. I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life. The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.
In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles. These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward. Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.
Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life. This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Loula and the Sister Recipe by Anne Villeneuve
The inventive Loula returns for her second outing in this picture book. Here she is sick and tired of her three brothers who refuse to play with her. So Loula decides that what she needs is a little sister, one who is just like her. So she goes to her parents and requests that they get her one. Her father explains that making a sister is a lot like baking a cake and needs special ingredients like a papa and a mama, butterflies in the stomach, a full moon, a candlelight supper, kisses and hugs, and chocolate. So Loula sets off to shop for those things with her ever-helpful chauffeur Gilbert. In the end, it all comes together in one amazing evening filled with candlelight, moonlight, and a sister surprise.
This second picture book about Loula again shows her determination and ability to look at a problem positively as something to solve. Infused with humor, young readers will know that her plan is probably not going to work out the way she thinks, yet few will expect the twist at the end when it comes. Having adored Gilbert the chauffeur in the first book, I was very pleased that this second book has much the same structure with Gilbert helping Loula gather everything she needs, including live butterflies.
The illustrations in this book have a loose flowing quality that has lots of motion and energy. Done in ink and watercolor, they vary from small illustrations with white backgrounds to two-page spreads filled with color. My favorite is the leaping Gilbert attempting to catch a butterfly in a net.
A strong young heroine with plenty of chutzpah combines with plenty of humor in this picture book series. Make sure to read both of the books because it’s even more time to spend with the amazing Loula! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and Noah are twins and they are so close. Both of them are artists and Noah in particular sees the world as constant inspiration for his artwork. Noah is withdrawn from others his age and bullied by other boys. Jude though is being noticed by the same boys who bully her brother and as they turn thirteen, the two of them may be different but they are still close. Jude is wearing lipstick and diving from cliffs. Noah is starting to fall for the boy across the street. Three years later though, the two of them are completely estranged from one another. They barely speak. Jude is the artist now and Noah no longer paints. Jude has discovered a mentor for her art and a boy who is just as damaged as she is. Noah is a normal straight teen who hangs out with those who once bullied him and now dives from cliffs himself. How did two teens change so much in such a short period of time? That’s the story here, and it involves grief, loss, betrayal, lies, love and truth.
Nelson tells the early part of the twins’ story in Noah’s voice. We get to experience the joy he feels about art and the beauty of his emerging sexuality combined with his fear of being discovered. Jude tells the story after their relationship is fractured. Her story is one of passions and change. They are both stories of trying to hide what you are, trying to become something new. They are stories that veer swiftly, change often and shout with emotion and pain.
Nelson writes with exquisite emotion on the page. She shows the passion, the fear, the grief, the love vividly and with such heart. It is her emotional honesty on the page that avoids sentimentality at all. Rather this book is raw and aching in every way, from the new relationships that are filled with lust and longing to the destroyed sibling relationship that is one lost and hurt betrayal after another. She also manages to somehow capture art and inspiration on the page, the power of art to express, the emotions that it creates and acknowledges, the joy of creation and the agony of being unable to make it.
Powerful storytelling that is beautifully written and tells the story of two siblings and their journey through being teenagers. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Little Humans by Brandon Stanton
The photographer behind Humans of New York brings his talent to a children’s book. Using photographs taken on the streets of New York, this book speaks to the power of children. Children may fall down, but they get back up, because they are tough. But they still need love and friends. Children are helpful, playful and talented. They learn and grow. They also know how to ask for help when they need it. And they do so very much so well that they just might insist they are are not little after all, they are big!
On each and every page, Stanton celebrates urban culture and diversity. There are children of every color here, each with their own unique sense of style and and distinct personality that pops on the page. His photographs speak volumes beyond the text that does little more than support the gorgeous, hip photographs.
A dynamic and diverse book that can be enjoyed by the smallest of children. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Finn is epileptic with seizures that he can’t control. He’s actually not sure he’d want to anyway, because his seizures are beautiful experiences, even though he pees himself during them. Finn also has eyes that are different colors. But those are not the wildest things about Finn. Finn’s mother was killed in the same freak accident that left him with epilepsy, a dead horse fell from a knackery truck passing on a bridge overhead and struck them both. Perhaps even wilder though is Finn’s best friend Cade, who is almost certainly insane but also staggeringly funny. Finn has a theory about his life. His father wrote a book that has a character with many of the same characteristics as Finn who happened to be a murdering alien. Perhaps Finn is caught in that book, or maybe the entire world is just a knackery truck. Then Julia enters Finn’s life and he is suddenly shown that there is much more to life or the knackery than he had ever realized.
Smith has written several acclaimed novels and this one is by far my favorite. He writes with a solid honesty, with teen characters who swear, who have sex, who talk about sex, who love and lust. The book is filled with humor, even the scene where Finn and Cade are accidental heroes is filled with slapstick moments mixed with profound courage. That is the way this book plays, it is humorous but also exceptionally though provoking.
Finn is a deeply flawed character who sees the world in a unique and strange way. He measures time in terms of distance, something that is unsettling at first but then becomes almost a natural way to view time by the end of the book. There is also something wonderfully darkly humorous about a character in a book worrying that he is a character in another book. The novel has layers upon layers and invites readers to look deeply into the story and to find their own way through the knackery of life.
A great teen novel, one of the best of the year, get this into the hands of teens who will enjoy the humor, understand the depth and not be offended by the strong language. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Twins’ Little Sister by Hyewon Yum
This follow-up to The Twins’ Blanket features the same twin girls. The book is told from their shared perspective. In this book, the issue is that there are two of them, but they only have one mother that they have to share. During nap time, both girls want their mother to look at them, but she can only look in one direction at a time. Being pushed on the swings is also a problem, since their mother can only push one of them at a time. Now they have a little sister arriving soon too and there will be even more demand for their mother’s time. When the baby arrives, the girls are not impressed. They can no longer be in the big bed with their mother because the baby is there. Their mother can’t push the swings at all anymore, because her arms are full. Then the girls discover that they get lots of attention for helping with the baby. Soon the girls are adoring big sisters, but there’s still one problem, they need another little sister so they don’t have to share!
This is a clever twist on sibling rivalry that shows the closeness and competitive nature of being sisters and twins. It is particularly good to see that the rivalry existed before the younger sibling arrived and that it was just another factor in the family dynamic. The voice of the two girls together is clear and bright, they are strong-willed little girls but that is not a bad thing. I appreciate a book that shows children being less than perfect on the page.
Yum’s illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and cut paper. The girls are distinguished by their dresses and barrettes but are otherwise identical. Emotions are clear on their faces, their eyes shining with feelings above their rosy cheeks.
A great choice for new siblings, this picture book shows human children grappling with being siblings and sharing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Monster Book by Alice Hoogstad
This wordless book shows the power of art for a whole community. In a black-and-white town that looks like a coloring book with black outlines, a little girl picks up a red crayon and starts drawing a heart on a wall. Soon she moves on to creating a monster on the road and her dog picks up her heart drawing and runs after her. The orange monster comes to life and the girl quickly moves on to another creature. One after another, she draws them and they come to life. The rest of the town looks on with amused expressions and no alarm even as monsters dance in the streets. Soon the monsters have crayons too and are coloring the buildings and people. This though is too much and the townsfolk order them to leave town and the children start to clean up the walls back to white again. Rain falls and washes all of the color away, or does it?
This is a picture book that celebrates public art and then turns whimsical and magical as the creatures come to life. Despite their fearsome appearance, they are friendly and silly rather than mean. The art is quite unique with its color-book feel and then the colors being drawn in. There is a radiant quality to the colors that are used and the loose and generous way the colors are applied invites children to be even more creative when they color too.
While this could encourage children to color on white walls, this book is much more likely to end up in a family coloring together appropriately and creatively. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat and Myrick Marketing.
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
The author of Little Owl Lost returns with another great picture book in his signature style. In this book, four people head into the forest with nets at night. There, they find a gorgeous red bird. The littlest of them calls out “hello, birdie” but the others shush him and declare that they have a plan and show the cage they are holding. They slowly tiptoe up to the bird, count off and jump! But the bird flies up into a tree. No worries, they have another plan. And when that fails, another and another. Finally, the smallest of them comes up with a plan that just might work, or maybe not.
This book is a stupendous read aloud. The chipper, bright voice of the littlest of them, the hushed shushing from the others, the counting off and finally the shout of GO! This happens again and again and will keep even the wiggliest of children paying close attention. Even better, the little one is the one who figures things out and presents a solution. Add at the end a wonderful twist to continue the story, and you have an outstanding picture book for sharing.
Haughton’s illustrations are created digitally but have the feel and texture of cut paper. He uses beautifully deep blues throughout the nighttime story and then the bright red of the bird pops. It also helps that the bird seems to live in its own beam of light, one that follows it as it escapes again and again. It’s a clever use of stage lighting in a picture book.
A top pick for sharing aloud, this picture book is a dazzling dark delight. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.