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.
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
Every Saturday, the residents of one apartment building spend the day smelling marvelous smells drifting down from the 5th floor. And every Saturday evening, everyone gathers on the 5th floor for Goldie’s cholent, a traditional Jewish stew. But then one Saturday, there was no wonderful smell and when little Lali Omar went up the stairs, she found that Goldie was too sick to get the cholent cooking and it was too late to start the slow-cooking stew. All is not lost though, as the neighbors look through their own pantries and refrigerators and create a Saturday meal that is not cholent but has many of the same ingredients incorporated into foods from their own personal heritages. There is Korean barley tea, tomato pizza, potato curry, and beans and rice.
Rockliff’s Shabbat tale is an amazingly diverse story. While it follows Jewish traditions in the beginning, including Goldie sharing memories as a little girl of Shabbat with her extended family, the magic comes when Goldie gets ill. Not only does the reader quickly realize how important this shared meal and time is for the entire building, but suddenly the heritage of each person is shown through their food. It’s a clever way to show community and diversity in a single situation.
Brooker’s illustrations combine cut paper art with rich thick paint. The result is the same winning combination of dishes served at the community Shabbat table. The different textures and colors come together to be something more than their individual parts, creating a dynamic world.
Celebrating community, this book shows how diverse people can come together in friendship and harmony to save the day. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
In the fall, the congregation gave Rabbi Benjamin a vest in honor of the new year. It was yellow with four bright silver buttons down the front and it was a perfect fit. Rabbi Benjamin wore his vest to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which also involved a lot of food. Each family offered their own special food for the holiday, and Rabbi Benjamin’s vest was a lot tighter by the end. During Sukkot, Rabbi visited each of the families and again had lots of food and his vest grew even tighter. Until on the last day of Sukkot, one of the silver buttons popped right off his vest. Chanukah came and Rabbi Benjamin ate lots of latke, and he lost a second silver button. Spring came along with Passover, and the rabbi lost the last two buttons that had tried to stretch across his growing belly. He was very upset about how he had ruined his special vest. So he changed a few things. He got out and moved more along with his congregation. And when he tried on the vest for Rosh Hashanah, it was far too big to wear. But don’t worry, Rabbi Benjamin had a loving congregation ready to help him again.
This book has a wonderful radiance about it. The heart of the book is really the love felt between the congregation and Rabbi Benjamin. He is unfailingly kind and giving as are they, perhaps a bit too giving when it comes to the food! At the same time, the story is a smart and very enjoyable way for readers to learn about the various Jewish holidays throughout the year and the traditions associated with them. The book has an index of the holidays at the end, including recipes for each holiday. There is also a glossary of Jewish words.
Reinhardt’s illustrations also capture the loving community on the page. Rabbi Benjamin almost glows on each page, not only due to his shining yellow vest but also with his popping and vibrant personality. The diverse ethnicities of the congregation is also appreciated.
A cheery look at Jewish holidays and the bounty of friendship and community, this book will be appreciated by people of all faiths. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sleep Tight, Little Bear by Britta Teckentrup
Winter is coming and Little Bear and Mommy Bear have been getting their den ready for the cold weather. Soon it will be time for them to hibernate for the winter and wake up again when the warmth of spring comes. Little Bear is excited about hibernating, but before he and his mother go to sleep, he has to say goodbye to all of his friends. Little Bear goes to each animal, wishing them a good winter and they all wish him a good sleep and promising to watch over him as he rests. As they return to their den, the snow is starting to fall and the winds are blowing cold. Inside their den, it is warm and cozy and Little Bear is fast asleep before he can even finish saying goodnight to his mother.
First published in Germany, Teckentrup’s picture book celebrates community and diversity without ever using those words on the page. It is clear throughout the entire book that the bear family is beloved in the woods. While some of the animals, like Owl, are not so friendly, the others are warmly affectionate to Little Bear. Many of the animals speak about watching over and taking care of the bears as they hibernate. They also speak about how different the bears are from them and sometimes briefly say what they will do in the winter. The messages are subtle and woven into this story about animals.
The illustrations are a strong mix of textured trees and animals and more simple elements that allow the textures to stand out on the page. One of the first pages in the book shows the entire forest as well as the animals that the bears will be visiting before they hibernate. It’s almost a map to the story and offer a peek into what will come.
A book about a friendly community of animals, this picture book is perfect for reading on chilly autumn evenings and ideal for a bedtime read. It will also be a welcome addition to seasonal story times and units on hibernation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from NorthSouth and NetGalley.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop. Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party. Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes. Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined. So her mother sends her out to get more sugar. On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest. It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party. Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party. But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.
This clever picture book shows different elements of a community. There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too. Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.
The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops. She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures. Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.
Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey
Released August 5, 2014.
Hermelin is a mouse who lives in the attic of Number 33 Offley Street. His attic is filled with books and boxes and a typewriter that Hermelin uses to write with. When Hermelin notices that the Offley Street Notices board is filled with people missing things, he knows just what he has to do. So he starts working as a mouse detective and solving the mysteries of Offley Street. He does this by noticing things and then leaving typed notes for the people to help them find their missing items. Then when tragedy almost strikes the youngest person on Offley Street, Hermelin is the one to save the day! Soon everyone wants to know exactly who this Hermelin person is, so they invite him to a thank you party in his honor. He just isn’t quite what they were expecting…
A new Mini Grey book is always a treat and this one is perfectly lovely. Hermelin is a winning character with plenty of pluck as he goes about solving mysteries. Happily, the mysteries are just as small as Hermelin himself, making the book all the more jaunty and fun. Grey spends some time showing Hermelin’s attic and how he lives. The small details here add a rich warmth to the book and it is also the details that create such a vibrant world on Offley Street with the humans as well.
Done in her signature style, the illustrations are filled with details. One can read the cereal box, the milk carton, and the titles on the books as well as giggling at the flavors of cat food on the shelf. Hermelin himself is a lovely white mouse with inquisitive eyes and a face that shows emotions clearly. The entire book is a pleasure to immerse yourself into and simply enjoy.
Clever and filled with adventure, the vast appeal of this detective story is no mystery at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro
In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar. They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden. Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read. On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering. Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away. But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night? It will take an entire town to save them.
Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book. Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well. The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support. That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.
Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them. Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community.
This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Felicity’s mother loves to move to new places, so Felicity has lived all over the country. But when her mother returns to the small town of Midnight Gulch, Felicity quickly realizes she has never lived in any place quite like this one. Midnight Gulch had once been full of magic of all sorts, but then a curse took the magic away and drove two brothers apart as well. But there is magic left in town, if you know where to look. It’s not big magic, just little pieces that were left behind. Felicity has one of those pieces of magic herself, she can see words everywhere, words spoken aloud and words thought silently. She is a word collector keeping a list of the words she finds. Others in town have some magic too, including Jonah, a mysterious boy who calls himself the Beedle and does good deeds around town. Then there’s also the ice cream factory that makes a flavor that evokes memories both sweet and sour. Felicity loves Midnight Gulch, but can she figure out a way to keep her mother from moving on to new places again?
This book was such fun. Lloyd has created an entire town that is filled with a wonderful mix of magic and history. Throughout the book, we learn about what first made Midnight Gulch so magical and then how it was taken away. Then little by little in tantalizing ways readers see the magic that is left and are offered clues about how it may return someday. It’s a book that is surprising and very readable.
Felicity is a great protagonist as she struggles to keep her family in one place. As she finds out more about her own family history and discovers members of her family and community she never knew before, she finds herself less lonely in a way that she never though possible. Perhaps the most delightful piece of all is that Felicity does not need her magic to solve her family’s issues, rather it is about piecing together a mystery and solving a riddle.
Glowing with magic, this novel is a shining read that should be savored just like an ice cream cone on a hot day. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Water in the Park: A Book about Water and the Times of the Day by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
This picture book opens with the sun rising just before six in the morning on the park. The turtles warm their shells in the pond and the glow of the sun lights the water. Dogs and their owners arrive for their morning walks. When they arrive, the turtles slip back under the water. By seven, babies have arrived at the park and are getting their drinks from the drinking fountain and setting up for a day of play. At eight, the sprinkles in the water play area are turned on. The day progresses with puddles, plants being watered, an ice cream truck, people cooling off in the shade, and lots of splashing. In the evening, the rain comes and everyone clears out of the park, leaving it again to the turtles and the silence.
Purely satisfying, this book shows the cyclical nature of the day as well as the water cycle too. All of the many ways that people use water in a park are shown here with a glorious sense of watching people’s lives from a bit away. We get to know the personalities of children and dogs, the joy of the sprinklers, the heat of the day, and the merriment of a full day spent at the park. It is also a celebration of the neighborhood park, where people from all over come together in a love of green space and water.
Graegin’s illustrations are filled with small touches that make them a pleasure to explore. This book is not ideal for sharing with larger groups because so much of its charm is in the details. It is those details that let us get to know the different people and animals without any explanation. Small dramas play out in these pictures.
A wonderful book, this story will speak to children from both country and urban settings who know the joys of parks, ponds and community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.
A Special Gift for Grammy by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Hunter collected a big pile of stones and put them on his grandmother’s porch. When his father and grandmother ask him what she is meant to do with them, Hunter replied, “What everyone does with a pile of stones.” Hunter turned out to be right. Everyone who saw the stack of stones knew just how to use one or more of them. The postal carrier used one to weigh down the mail on a breezy day. Workmen used them as hammers or weights. They are used to stop wheels from rolling and show people what way to turn. When Hunter returned only six little stones were left. But this time it’s Grammy who knows just what to do with them.
I have one big issue with this book: the title. It does very little to convey the charm that is inside this book. I love the idea of a pile of stones that everyone borrows from and uses. Then the end of the book is intensely satisfying. I must admit though that with the uninteresting title, I almost passed on this book, expecting it to be a book about the death of a grandparent or a saccharine poem about familial love. Instead it is a well-designed look at community, family and connections. I’d much rather have had the title reference the stone pile or stones or rocks.
The illustrations are done in collage, acrylic and pencil. They have gorgeous deep colors, combined with lots of texture from the collage. The collage is done in such a subtle way that it is almost invisible, just adding a level of texture and pattern to the paintings.
This book truly is a special gift, but one that could use a new title. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins Publishers.