Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Herman is a crocodile who lives in New York and finds it very lonely. He loves playing his oboe in his apartment. His job selling things on the telephone, makes his life less lonely because he can talk to people, but doesn’t make him very good at his job. Rosie lives in the building next door to Herman and she loves to sing. She has a job washing dishes but loves most of all her singing lessons and performing in a little jazz club on Thursday nights. The two are lonely but fairly happy because both of them hear great music floating into their windows from time to time. Then one day Herman loses his job and Rosie discovers that the jazz club is closing. The two of them head home and don’t make any music for a long time. Until they wake up one morning and things have changed. They are craving their favorite food and want to make music.
Gordon has written a picture book ode to big city living, particularly New York. He incorporates the potential loneliness of urban life but also praises the bustling, the music, the lifestyle. The characters are quirky and believable. They are the sort of characters who make perfect sense, whose actions are credible, reactions ring true, and they make the entire book work.
Gordon writes and illustrates with a playful tone. His illustrations are done in mixed media, including photographs, paint, and pencil. The different media are worked together so thoroughly that at times you never notice the photos mixed in. They are so cleverly done that it all forms one unified piece until something catches your eye.
Two musical souls in one big lonely city where they live next door to one another. It’s a combination just as exquisite as New York itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin
Will Allen is a farmer who can see the potential where others can’t. When he sees a vacant lot, he sees a farm with enough to feed everyone. When he was a boy, he grew up helping care for a large garden that kept their family fed. But Allen did not want to spend his life weeding and digging in the dirt, so he decided to become a basketball player, and he did. But then living in Milwaukee, he saw empty greenhouses standing vacant and realized that he could feed people who had never eaten a fresh vegetable. First though, he had to clear the land and then figure out how to improve his soil so that something could grow there. That was the first time that the neighborhood kids helped out, bringing compost items to feed the worms. Slowly and steadily, a community garden emerged and Will Allen taught others to be farmers too. His Milwaukee farm now gets 20,000 visitors a year so that others can learn to grow gardens where there had only been concrete.
I had seen the documentary, Fresh that includes Will Allen as part of the film about new thinking about food. So I was eager to see a picture book about this inspiring figure. It did not disappoint. Martin captures the natural progression of Allen’s life from child eating from the garden to farmer giving other children that same experience and spreading the word about what is possible in an urban setting. Martin’s tone throughout has a sense of celebration of Allen and his accomplishments. She captures his own inherent enthusiasm on the page.
Larkin’s illustrations are striking. Each could be a poster for farming and urban gardens on their own. Combined into a book, they become a celebration of this large man with an even larger dream. The colors are bright, the textures interesting and the image backgrounds evoke farming and nature.
This picture book biography is a visual feast that invites everyone to its community table. Librarians and teachers in Wisconsin should be particularly interested in adding this to their collection, but it will hold interest in urban and farming areas across the country. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Readers to Eaters.
Dusk by Uri Shulevitz
On a snowy December evening, a boy, his dog, and grandfather talk a walk. They stop to watch the sun sink over the river and then they head into the city. There people are in a great hurry. There are people shopping for gifts for their children, others heading home to feed their cats, and even an alien speaking its own language. As darkness falls, the lights in the city start to turn on. First just a few, then more, and finally the boy and grandfather are downtown near the large shop windows and it is revealed that this is a holiday book with different windows celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.
It took until that final reveal to realize that I was reading a holiday book, and that is a wonderful thing. Instead of centering on the holidays, this book is about quiet moments and time spent together just looking at the changing light in the sky and in the city. The text is so simple, then becomes dancing complexity when the people start to talk, then returns to the simplicity again. Readers will be jolted by the change, just as if their own quiet walk at dusk was interrupted.
Shulevitz’s art is so beautiful. He captures the setting sun with colors that will make readers linger alongside the characters in the book. He plays throughout the book with shadows, light and darkness. As the lights come on in the book, the light is warm against the winter darkness and pools in liquid on the ground. In the reveal of the holiday windows, the illustrations become detailed and honeyed. Again, a place to linger and bask in that holiday mood.
A top holiday pick, this book is a lovely companion to Snow and stands on its own too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Here I Am by Patti Kim
This wordless picture book is the story of a boy and his family coming to an American city. The signs don’t make any sense, the crowds are huge. It’s noisy and big and confusing. In the boy’s pocket is a red object from home. It reminds him of what he left behind whenever he holds it in his hand. He spends a lot of time at home, not interacting with anyone until one day, he drops his keepsake out of the window where a girl picks it up. The girl heads off and the boy follows her and along the way discovers the greener parts of the city, food he recognizes, and people who are friendly. In the end, he’s planted himself firmly into this new place.
Told entirely in pictures, this wordless book is written by a person who lived through this experience when they came to America from Korea forty years ago. The book has an honesty that runs through it and nicely shows the time that it takes for someone to even see the positive in a new place. It addresses the overwhelming feeling of homesickness and the jarring loss of language that isolates. Beautifully illustrated, this book is one that has intricate images that come together to form a cohesive and powerful whole.
A remarkable capturing of the immigrant story, this book will speak to those who are immigrants and will also help others understand what children from other countries are going through. The choice to make it wordless makes it all the more useful with immigrant populations in our communities. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Capstone Young Readers.
The Other Side of Town by Jon Agee
A New York taxi driver picks up a rather odd passenger who asks to be taken to Schmeeker Street on the other side of town. They reach a dead end, but that is not the other side of town yet. The man pulls out a remote control and the dead end opens into a tunnel, the Finkon Tunnel. The tunnel leads to a maze of ramps that twist and turn, ending in spotholes. The driver tries to avoid them, but accidentally drives into one of the large black holes from which they are dumped onto Schmeeker Street. Suddenly everything is pink and green, just like the man. Finally, they reach his destination but the cabbie is caught on the other side of town until he notices the remote control left in the back seat. But yet another surprise is waiting for him when he gets home!
Agee plays with our expectations with a great sense of fun in this book. Renaming landmarks into something very similar but yet strange and different was a great choice. The tone is entirely one of silliness and laughter with just enough being different and zany to make it clear that the other side of town is unlike anywhere readers have ever been. It is through this that Agee subtly demonstrates that there are paths to cultural acceptance for those who are different from us.
The color palette of the other side of town also plays a large role in the story. Immediately readers will see the little man as unusual thanks to his pink plume and green bodysuit. When the story moves to the other side of town, the cabbie suddenly pops in his pale blue against all of the pink and green.
Funny, silly and a treat, take a visit to the other side of the town! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Machines Go to Work in the City by William Low
This is an inventive look at machines, combining it with large flaps to open and questions to engage. Low looks at one machine after another that works in the city and then asks a question about it. The questions are not simple either, this is not a book that talks down to its young audience. Instead you have to think a bit. Do the garbage men go home after picking up the garbage? Can the crane operator still work when the building grows taller than the crane? Is the airplane ready to leave when the passengers are on board and the baggage is loaded? Little listeners get to turn the flap to learn the answer and the reason. The answer is given with a quick explanation and then the book moves on to the next machine. It’s just enough information for a preschooler to really enjoy.
Low has created a brisk pace here, never lingering too long and offering exactly the right amount of information. This makes the book very readable, something that can be happily shared at bedtime unlike a lot of nonfiction vehicle books. More information on each machine is offered at the end of the book, complete with labeled parts. Those are pages that young truck fans will linger on.
Low’s illustrations are richly colored. The painted textures add to them with some pages having individual bricks done solely in texture alone. At other times, the sleek metal stands out.
A great pick for your own little machine fan or for public library shelves. Don’t let the flaps scare you off, they are large and just as durable as a regular page. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi and Krysten Brooker
On a quiet summer morning, Fred heads to the roof of his home in Brooklyn where his bee hives are. With his cup of tea, he spends time with the bees, thinking about the honey they will make for him. He imagines flying like a bee and looking for nectar. He encourages the young bees to have courage on their first flights. He celebrates the older bees as they throw themselves into the air, some stopping to land on his sleeves first to greet him. He knows they will return full of nectar that then will be made into honey by others in the hive. At the end of August, Fred harvests the honey from the hives, resulting in golden jars of sweetness that he shares with his neighbors. This is a book about communities large and small, interwoven together.
The language in this book is lovely and evocative. It is a book that creates small moments of celebrations. Here is a passage of Fred’s morning in July greeting the bees:
Fred inhales the smells of a summer city morning: maple leaves and gasoline and the river and dust. He turns to the tiny city and inhales its smaller, sweeter smell – a little like caramel, a little like ripe peaches.
All of the senses are filled with the experience of urban bee keeping in this book. It is packed with these sensory moments. The language is poetic and beautifully detailed.
The mixed-media illustrations have a whimsical feel to them. Just as the book itself does, they celebrate Brooklyn, urban life, and the bees. There is a homey, warm feel that is often lacking in books about cities that is a pleasure to see.
Celebrate bee keeping, city life, and community with this book. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
Welcome to My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegria Hudes, illustrated by Shino Arihara
This alphabet book, from the author of the musical In the Heights, takes a gritty and realistic look at urban life that will be familiar to many children while exposing other children to a new setting. Ava takes her friend on a tour of her neighborhood and many words in Spanish. She starts with a hug for her abuela and passes through G for graffiti, M for los muralistas painting murals on the walls, V for vegetables in what used to be a vacant lot, and ends at Z Street where the cars zoom past. Ava adds lots of small details to her alphabet tour that really show her enthusiasm for her neighborhood as well as giving the reader more details about her home. This is a tour worth taking!
This book does not sugarcoat what you will see in an urban neighborhood with abandoned cars, graffiti, and a burned building. But for children who see these things in their own neighborhoods, they will find a picture book that depicts their own world, something invaluable for a child. The Spanish words add a great rhythm to the book and another layer of information. Airhara’s illustrations use a lot of open space, emphasizing the stretches of blocks, the expanse of the city. They are simple and have a pleasant mix of bright color and earth tones.
A book that fills a need in children’s alphabet books for books set in urban locations, this will be welcomed on library shelves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
When You Meet a Bear on Broadway by Amy Hest, illustrated by Elivia Savadier
When you meet a bear on Broadway, you stick out your hand and ask them to stop. Then you politely ask what his business is there. He bursts into tears saying that he has lost his mother. The two of you think of how to find her together. Then you look uptown. And downtown. Along the river. Until you find a forest where the bear climbs a tall tree and shouts for his mother. But will a mama bear be able to hear him in the middle of a bustling city?
Though the styles are very different, this has the feel of Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie feel. It is the short lines and the repeating phrase of “When you meet a bear on Broadway.” Hest takes this form and creates a book about being lost, being helped, and being found. There is never any sense of panic about the child helping the bear. It is far more of a problem solving book about what to do when you find a bear on a city street.
The book has a nice bit of old-fashioned whimsy about it though the setting is modern. Savadier’s illustrations contribute to this with their gentle lines and watercolor washes. The little girl and the bear are often the only bright color on the page, magnifying their relationship rather than the largeness of the city itself.
Funny, quiet and very satisfying, this book would be nice paired with any of Numeroff’s If You titles. It also offers a nice change of pace for any bear-themed stories. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by A Patchwork of Books.