If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
Award-winning Nelson tells a story about the power of sharing in this simple and striking picture book. The story begins with a rabbit and a mouse planting a tomato seed, a carrot seed and a cabbage seed in their garden. Then the two wait through all kinds of weather for the seeds to sprout and grow. Until finally, they have three lovely plants and are able to feast on their bounty. Then the birds arrive and silently ask for the rabbit and mouse to share. But no sharing happens and instead there is a struggle and the plants are destroyed. One small red tomato survives and the mouse offers it to the birds. The birds in turn repay that kindness with seeds of their own which then sprout into a much larger and more diverse garden for them all to enjoy, along with even more animals.
Nelson’s writing here is simple but also to the point. He shows young readers what is happening in the story. Using the symbolism of the garden throughout, he explains the importance of sowing the seeds of kindness rather than selfishness and finally how beautiful it is in the end when you do that. There is little subtlety here and the symbolism is beautifully integrated into the story as a whole.
As always, Nelson’s illustrations are pure delight. His animals shine on the page, showing emotions clearly and beautifully both in their eyes and the positions of ears and tails. Other details bring the entire scene to life. Perhaps my favorite page is the birds silently watching the rabbit and mouse feast on the produce. It’s funny and yet the tension is clear too. The entire book is filled with small lovely moments like this told in images rather than words.
Community, sharing and kindness come together in this splendidly illustrated picture book that is sure to be enjoyed along with other spring gardening books. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc
Released March 1, 2015.
A little girl sets off on her first bus ride all by herself. Her mother packed her a snack and her sweater too. But this is not a normal bus, with its passengers of rabbits, a bear, a turtle, a mouse and a very sleepy sloth. Stop by stop, the bus picks up and drops off more and more animals. A family of wolves enters the bus at one point and the little girl shares her snack happily with the little wolf. The bus goes through a dark tunnel and everything gets mixed around in the dark, but things are quickly sorted back into some sort of normal. There is even a cunning fox thief that the little girl helps chase off the bus at the next stop. This is one wonderful adventure for a little girl all on her own who has an amazing ride.
First published in France, this picture book celebrates a child traveling on their own. Though the larger animals may seem threatening at first, those fears are quickly allayed by their actions. Even the wolf family acts very appropriately on the bus. There is the thief but again the little girl is empowered enough to put a stop to his shenanigans herself. Children in the U.S. will be astonished at the freedom of this little girl and the trust she is given. They will also love the Little Red Riding Hood ties that are evident in the story.
Dubuc’s illustrations are done in fine lines and subtle colors. That adds to the gentleness of the tale and the feeling that everything is nonthreatening and OK. Subtle things change on each page and children will want time to look closely at the pictures, particularly after the tunnel switches things around.
Warm and confident, this picture book is a friendly introduction to bus rides even though real life ones aren’t likely to have bears, wolves and sloths as part of the community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.
Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
On a moonlit night, a young boy realizes that he’s forgotten to say his prayers and hops out of bed to pray. He notices the beauty of the yellow moon and begins to pray. As the moon crosses the sky, it shines on the different people that the boy prays for. He prays for people with no homes and the moon shines on a woman trying to sleep on a park bench. He prays for wars to end and the moon shines on a man worried about his daughter who is a soldier. He prays for the sick to be healed and the moon shines into a hospital room. He prays that everyone has enough food and the moon shines on a family with empty cupboards and also into a food pantry. He prays for his own family, even his pet turtle. And back in his bed, he prays that the next night he will remember to pray.
Bolden manages to keep this book solely about prayer and the act of praying for others without defining what religion the boy is. Her use of the moon as a unifying factor works well, creating a book that flows along in a natural way. Bolden’s text is done in poetic form, capturing moments of people in need of prayers with a real clarity.
Velasquez’s art is luminous. He captures moonlit rooms and places with a cool but also rich light. He celebrates diversity on the page, the people in the images a rich tapestry of color and ethnicities. The little boy’s earnest face speaks volumes about the importance of prayer.
A nondenominational book about prayers, need and community support, this book celebrates the power of faith in a way that children will easily relate to. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
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.