Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Eliot loved living in the big city, but sometimes it was hard being such a small elephant in such a huge place. He had to watch out so he didn’t get stepped on, doorknobs could be too high, and he could never catch a cab. Even at home, Eliot had to find a way to make everyday things work. Eliot also loved cupcakes, though when he tried to buy one in a shop he couldn’t get noticed by the person at the counter. He felt very small and invisible then, but on the way home he discovered a mouse trying to reach some food and found that even though he may be small he can make a big difference. Even better, he can make friends!
Curato uses only a few words to tell his story, making the most of the illustrations to show the ways that Eliot solves his height issues at home as well as how the new friends solve the cupcake buying problem. Children will enjoy reading about this little polka-dotted elephant who faces the same issues that they do in life. They will easily relate to the sadness of being ignored too.
The illustrations in this book are filled with charm. Eliot himself is a wonderfully unusual little fellow, shining on the page. The images of the city are mostly done in a dark and subtle color palette. The entire book has a fifties vibe to it and some of the images are pulled right out of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s a courageous choice that works particularly well.
A charmer of a protagonist and an urban landscape make this one delicious cupcake of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
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.
Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Join a group of city kids as a thunderstorm bursts overhead. It starts with just a “tap tap” of rain and the umbrellas come out. Then a “boom boom” enters and a “crackle” of lightning too. Puddles form and the wind swells. So the children head down into the subway to get underground. Lots of people gather and shelter in the subway, including some very wet dogs that shake themselves dry on everyone. People stop, talk with one another, share umbrellas. Then the storm ends and there is a gorgeous surprise in the sky.
Bluemle offers a jaunty rhythm in her poem that also has rhymes that work well. She captures the unexpected nature of a summer storm and combines it with the camaraderie that forms when people shelter together. This is a very positive book, one that has all different sorts of people put together in one large urban community.
Karas’ illustrations are done in his signature style. His pictures are a mix of drawings, paintings and photographs. The combination creates a slick urban feel with added warmth from his very personable characters who fill up the space.
A great choice for thundery spring weather, this picture book celebrates storms. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.