One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (InfoSoup)
A joyous look at how different families can be and how very happy people can be in small and large families. The book is a cheery mix of counting book and family size, moving from one person happily sharing her book with her cat to a very large family of ten with grandparents mixed in. The book celebrates diversity in families as well with people of different ethnic backgrounds and gay parents. This picture book will have every child seeing themselves on the page and able to relate, which is definitely something to be celebrated!
Shannon writes a great little poem that carries this book forward at a brisk and jaunty pace. Each verse looks at a larger family but begins with “One is…” and then the number of people in that family. The verse then goes on to show other objects and items that are that number but still a solid unit, like a bunch of bananas or a flock of birds. The message is one of being loved and included no matter the size of your family or who is part of it.
Gomez’s illustrations are lovely. She creates diversity with a sense of ease, rather than it being forced at all. It is a joy to see the final page where all of the families are in the same neighborhood and mingling outside, one big rainbow of people together. Her paper collage illustrations are friendly and filled with small touches that are worth lingering over. It’s those touches that make the book feel even more warm and the families all the more loving.
A great pick to celebrate the diversity in every community, this is a great pick to share aloud thanks to the clever rhyme and lovely illustrations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho (InfoSoup)
This picture book explores time and the way that things happen all at once across the world. Small moments are captured from various countries: an elevator stuck in New York City, a horn honks in traffic in Mexico, a volcano erupts, a boy learns to balance on his bike. One after another these snapshots of time are happening all at once and yet also form a lovely series of events that are all entirely human and show how interrelated our world actually is.
The concept is at once immensely simple and also incredibly complex, the understanding that your own life is just one of many being lived at the very same time. Martins embraces that duality in the book, capturing those universal moments but also showing the diversity around the world. A guide at the end of the book includes a map of where the various events take place all at the same time. There is a distinct wonder to the book, a feeling that the world is both larger and smaller than it had seemed to be a second before.
Carvalho’s illustrations are bold and graphic. He uses thick black lines to create scenes that are active and beautiful. One page contrasts with the next, showing diverse people and settings. The result is a feeling of moving clearly from one place to the next with each turn of the page, from lush jungles to concrete settings, from bright sunlight to clouded evening.
Perfect to start discussions about time and place and even time zones, this picture book allows children to think in a bigger way about their world, diversity and their own place. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Room for Bear by Ciara Gavin (In InfoSoup)
Bear visited the Duck family one spring and then never left. He fit in perfectly in many ways, except for their house which was not designed for someone Bear’s size. So Bear set off in search of a perfect space for all of them. But it was hard to find a place that worked. Places that fit Bear perfectly did not work for the Ducks. Where the Ducks were happy, Bear was not. Then Bear thought that maybe it was because HE did not fit in with the Ducks after all, so he went away to find a home just for him. The Ducks missed Bear horribly, and Bear missed the Ducks. Finally, Bear found just the right huge cave for himself and then came up with a clever Duck-sized solution that would let them all live together happily.
This picture book is about families and what makes a family. Told from the point of view of animals, it speaks beyond cultures and skin color to a feeling where differences in general are embraced and honored. At the same time, the book honors the feeling a person can have of fitting in just fine sometimes and in other situations feeling that they are an outsider. These complex feelings are caught on the page without over dramatizing them. The result is a book the embraces adoptive and blended families of all sorts without making the picture too rosy and uncomplicated.
Gavin’s illustrations are done with a whimsical sense of humor. From Bear trying to fit into a tiny and tippy Duck boat as a home to the unhappy Ducks sitting around the table forlornly missing Bear, she captures emotions clearly on the page as well as the dilemmas of differences. The illustrations are softly painted with fine ink lines that allow both the big bear and small ducks to have personality galore.
A winning read that speaks to all families and particularly adoptive and blended families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple just doesn’t fit in. Her Filipino mother cooks food that no American kids eat. Plus she is so strict that Apple isn’t allowed to take any music classes at school because it might impact her other more important grades. Apple though desperately wants to learn to play the guitar. When they left the Philippines, she took just one picture and a tape of the Beatles that had belonged to her dead father. Apples does have friends, but once they discover that she is on the Dog Log, a list of the ugliest girls at school, they stop hanging around with her. Apple decides to start saving up for a guitar and as she does that she starts to make new friends, other kids that have been singled out as odd or different. But one misstep with a teacher’s wallet marks Apple as a thief and that is all it takes for her former friends to really turn against her. Apple has to figure out how being different can actually be a very good thing.
This tween novel has a strong mix of a multicultural main character combined with middle school popularity and racism. Kelly does not flinch away from the blatant racism that teenagers can engage in as well as the casual hate that they throw at each other, particularly kids who are different from them. Kelly’s writing has a friendly, straight-forward tone even as she deals with the drama of both middle school and a parent who is over protective. Using music as a language that bridges new friendships and new understandings works particularly well and serves as a backbone for the entire novel.
Apple is a character with lots going on in her life. She faces racism on a daily basis at school and in turn takes it out on her mother, turning her back on much of their Filipino culture. She is embarrassed by her mother and angry at her lack of support for Apple’s musical dreams. As Apple puts together a misguided plan to run away, readers will hope that she finds a way to live in the life that she already has, particularly because they will see how special she is long before Apple can realize it herself.
A great tween read, this book offer complexity and diversity in a story about individuality and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.
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.