Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.
De la Pena is best known for his young adult books. This is the second picture book he has written. One would never know that this is not his specialty. His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage. They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.
A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
A blue crayon labeled as red is not very good at being red at all. His fire trucks were all wrong. He thought more practice might help, but his strawberries didn’t look anything like Scarlet’s. When he tried to mix with other colors, like Yellow to make orange, it turned very green on him. His parents tried to warm him up with a scarf, but it didn’t work either. Everyone had advice for him, like just trying harder or sharpening himself to a new point. Nothing made any difference. Then he made a new friend who asked him to make an ocean for her boat to sail on. Red protested at first because oceans aren’t red, but then agreed to try. And suddenly he realized that he had been blue all along!
Told in symbolism that children will immediately understand, this book works on a variety of levels. It can inspire children to be who they really are on the inside and to be true to that and not the labels that society puts on you. Others will read it as a metaphor for being gay or transgendered and I think it works beautifully for that as well. Perhaps the best praise that can be given this book is that it can mean so many different things to people.
Hall’s artwork is simple and lovely. His various crayons are different heights and have wonderful color names that range from more normal colors to “Cocoa Bean” and “Hazelnut” and “Grape.” They all have something to say too, helpful and not-so-helpful alike. But they are Red’s community and children will see in them things that are said to people who are different in some way.
A celebration of inner diversity, this picture book is all about accepting and celebrating our differences. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Call Me Tree: lámame árbol by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Released November 1, 2014.
This poetic picture book combines a celebration of trees with one of human diversity. A boy starts to grow under the earth, reaching his arm up to break the surface of the ground. His arm and fingers becomes a trunk and branches and soon he too is up in the air next to his tree. Just as trees have freedom, so does he. Just as each tree is different from another, he is different from the other people too. Yet they all have roots and they all belong on the earth and in the world.
This very simple book is written like a free verse poem in both English and Spanish, closely tying biodiversity to human diversity in a clever way. The connection of humans and trees is beautifully shown as well, in a way that ties each person to a tree like them. It’s a book that is radiant in its delight in our connection to nature and the way that nature’s diversity reflects on our own.
Gonzalez both wrote and illustrated this picture book. Her illustrations are colorful with deep colors that leap on the page. The characters on the page are bold and different, each with their own feel of exuberance or quiet contemplation or strength. Along with each different child, there is a tree connected to them that equally reflects their personality. It’s a very clever way to clearly tie humans to nature.
This book could serve as inspiration for children to draw their own personal trees that express themselves or it can be a lullaby to dreams of blue skies and green leaves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Children’s Book Press.
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.
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.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else. He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully. When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle. There had clearly been a mix up! So Gaston switches places with Antoinette. Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families. What is a dog to do?
Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family. It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story. Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you. Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude. Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images. The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group. All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular.
A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
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.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The four Fletcher boys could not be more different from one another. There is the serious ten-year-old Eli who is starting a private school separate from his brothers for the first time and who just may have made a horrible decision changing schools. There is Sam, aged twelve, who loves sports and is popular at school but who will find himself stretching into new interests this year. There is Jax, also aged ten, who has a huge homework assignment that will have him talking to their new grumpy neighbor for help but only after he calms down from a number of things. Finally, there is Frog who is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and who may have a new imaginary friend named Ladybug. It all adds up to a wonderful read with lots of humor and one amazing family.
Filled with laughter, an angry neighbor, elaborate Halloween parties, soccer, hockey and plenty of pets, this book is sure to please middle grade readers. Add in the diverse backgrounds of the four boys in the family and their two dads and you have a book that celebrates diversity without taking itself too seriously. It’s the ideal mix of completely readable book with its diversity simply part of the story not the main point.
All of the boys as well as the two fathers are unique individuals with their own personal responses to crises and situations. Each chapter begins with a note from one character to another, usually funny and always showing their personality. Perhaps the best part of the book is that this family dynamic is clearly one of love but also filled with normal chaos and the daily strain of work, school, neighbors and friends. It reads like a modern classic.
I hope we get to read more of their misadventures in future books, because this is one family that I want to see much more of! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng
A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter. The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest. Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside. Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all. He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything. The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly. Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands! But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese. Norman spoke Chinese! Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.
Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family. The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant. It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that. Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog. I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.
Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text. They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid. Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.
A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.