When Lions Roar by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Chris Raschka
The author of It’s Perfectly Normal joins forces with a Caldecott Medalist to create this picture book. It is the story of a young boy who is overwhelmed by a visit to the zoo with all of the animal noises. He also gets scared of a thunder storm, sirens and mommy and daddy shouting. When it all becomes too frightening, the boy sits down, shuts his eyes and tells the scary to go away. And it does. Then he can hear the quiet again and he stands back up and opens his eyes. He is off to run in the sunshine, look at nature and hear the softer sounds around him.
This is a simple picture book with lines that don’t rhyme but a rhythm that ties them all together into almost verse. Harris captures the feeling of a child overwhelmed by noise but also by negative things happening. I appreciate that the child solves the issue on his own by becoming introspective and mindful and not by having a tantrum. It is a book about centering oneself and calming down even in a loud environment. The return to being able to hear the softer things and enjoy your surroundings again is particularly effective.
Rashka’s art is his signature style with loose sweeps of paint in bright colors. His images are swirls of movement that work very well with the subject matter. From the noises in the air to the quieter moments, the boy’s entire body language changes as he gives in to the overwhelming feelings first and then recovers from them.
A strong book, this is one that will encourage children to center themselves and be in charge of their own reactions to overstimulation. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young, illustrated by Catia Chien
Colors can be seen in many different ways and the little girl in this picture book tends to see them very differently than her family and friends. Her sister says that blue is sad, but for her blue is happy like favorite jeans or the swimming pool. Her mother says yellow is cheery, but for her yellow is worried like a wilting flower. Her father says brown is ordinary, but it is also the color of chocolate syrup so it’s special too. Useful for color identifying, this book takes it a level deeper to the feelings that colors evoke in each of us.
Young has created something of a poem here in her prose. She uses a format with repetitive structures, each new person and their reactions to colors a stanza and also a set of pages. Within this strong format, the exploration of feelings is done with a confidence that will allow young readers to voice their own. Young takes unusual reactions to colors and makes them concrete with her examples too.
Chien’s illustrations have a wonderful softness to them that frees the imagination. Filled with the color that is being discussed, the illustrations celebrate each color and invite thoughts from children listening to the book.
A lovely take on colors, this picture book will lead to plenty of discussion and would be a great jumping off point for craft and art projects. Appropriate for ages 4-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Crankenstein by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat
You should be very very scared of Crankenstein. He appears when provoked, on rainy days, at bedtime, or when popsicles melt on hot days. Nothing can fix Crankenstein, not a sunny morning, pancakes for breakfast or any amount of niceness. But there is one thing that can fix a Crankenstein – another Crankenstein. Sometimes that and only that can get the Crankensteins to both start giggling and then they both disappear and become normal kids again. But beware, Crankenstein still lurks, hidden, and ready to appear at any moment.
Written in a firmly tongue-in-cheek tone, readers will quickly recognize their own Crankenstein moments in this book. Berger keeps the details minimal and the situations universal in this book, adding to the humor. Santat’s illustrations really bring the story to life. Crankenstein is given the perfect death glare, those deadened eyes staring right at you. Santat doesn’t hold back here, gleefully creating an over-the-top characterization of pure grumpiness.
This book reads aloud wonderfully and offers a gleeful glimpse at the grumps. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Moods are matched with colors in this jazzy picture book. Jamie is having a really great day, feeling purple and just being. But when his brothers kick him off the couch, his mood turns stormy gray. As he draws, his mood turns green and easy. Then his older brothers make fun of his drawing and Jamie’s mood turns black. Basketball gives him a swishing orange mood and running home almost late has him racing red. Family dinner is lemon pie yellow and washing up brings on tides of bluesy feelings. The day ends with that same cold plum purple mood as it began with. What color is your mood?
Brown’s poetry has a jazz beat and lots of metaphors that make it dance in your mind. Children will immediately recognize the moods and easily relate the colors to them. From the teasing of older brothers to the pleasure of making art, Jamie’s moods are universal. Brown’s writing begs to be read aloud, written so that it tumbles off the tongue.
Evan’s illustrations have a jaunty vibe that matches that of the poem. The art is digital collage created with oil paints and graphite. The illustrations have a great depth of color, something that makes this book all the more vibrant. They also have a wonderful texture from the paint and from swirls in the color.
This is a positive way to look at complex emotions and would make a great book to start a discussion about feelings and moods. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Peace, Baby! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
So many children’s books about strong emotions come off as mini-lectures about proper behavior. This one has a stirring call for people to not react with violence or anger, but instead with peace and understanding while continuing to be understanding about those negative emotions that can overwhelm. The rhyme helps make the book fun and jaunty while offering the idea of just saying “Peace, Baby!” when you get upset. This is the most basic of conflict resolution, yet it is also the start of something bigger, taking responsibility for your own reactions and controlling them. This cheery book invites others to be happy and peaceful.
Ashman’s rhyme is at the heart of this book, carrying the entire idea of being peaceful and calm forward with a jolly rhyme. Thanks to the playful nature of the rhymes and the “Peace, Baby!” the book does not lecture but instead recommends hugs, conversations and compromise.
Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations add a lovely softness to the book. With their pastel shades, the book continues to feel playful but also has a lightness to it that keeps the message from feeling heavy handed at all.
A strong addition to library collections, this will be a great way to talk about emotions as a group and also the proper responses to when you feel angry. Peace out! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Again! by Emily Gravett
It’s nearly bedtime and that means a bedtime story. Mama dragon and little dragon curl up together to share the story of the bright, red dragon Cedric who has never gone to bed. When they finish, the little dragon asks for it “Again?” Mama dragon agrees and readers will see another full page of the book that tells more about Cedric and his not sleeping. Mama reads it one more time before falling asleep herself. Readers will notice the little dragon getting redder and redder just as Cedric in the story is turning back to green. But this little dragon has a burning desire for one more story that leads to a fiery ending.
Gravett cleverly reaves two parallel stories together here. There is the main story of the little dragon who wants to be read to over and over again. Then there is the story of Cedric in the book that Mama dragon reads. The two play off of one another, with tension in one ebbing as the other picks up.
The art is just as clever. Towards the end, the little dragon shakes the book in disgust and the characters take a tumble across the pages. This leads to the surprise of the ending, which is sure to delight young readers.
A perfect ending for a story time, this book is one that young children (and dragons) will want to read AGAIN! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rain! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson
The perfect book to lift your spirits on a soggy spring day! When an older man wakes up and sees the rain, he is not happy. But when a little boy looks out at the same rain, he’s delighted. The older man grumbles through his preparations to go outside, while the little boy puts on his green boots, green coat and frog hat still happy with the gloomy weather. The old man grumbles about puddles, while you can see the joy of the child. They end up in the same café, the old man still grumpy with his day and the young boy happy with cocoa and cookies. When the two bump into each other, it seems like the grumpiness rubs off on the little boy. But then he notices that the older man left his hat behind, and with a little joke and a shared cookie, a day is brightened.
Ashman has written this book very simply, just in snatches of dialogue. Despite the simplicity, the mood of each character is clear in their words. It is made even more clear by the cut-paper illustrations that display each person’s mood with just a few lines. Readers will notice that the pages with the older man have others with grumpy faces while the pages with the the child have others with smiles.
A book that is sure to have readers jumping merrily in puddles and dancing in the rain, this is an inspiration to look on the bright side of things and share your happiness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
The dreaded boredom has set in in this very funny picture book. A little girl is so bored she is flat on her back moaning when she notices a potato. When she tosses the potato away, not knowing what to do with it, the potato says that it too is bored. The potato goes on to tell the little girl that kids are boring. She insists that no, kids are fun and the potato challenges her to prove it. She shows the potato all the physical things she can do, then demonstrates using her imagination, but through it all the potato stays unimpressed. There is a great twist at the end of the book that you will have to read for yourself. A funny read that will have even the most bored child enjoying themselves.
Done entirely in dialogue, this is a fast-moving picture book. It begs to be read aloud with a grungy, dusty potato voice. The ever-bored potato is a great foil to the little girl who despite herself loses herself in her imagination and actions. It’s a lesson that kids are anything but boring, even when they themselves are bored.
The illustrations have a great rough feel to them. Done digitally, there is a feel of the organic roughness of a block print. I particularly enjoy seeing a little girl not in pink or done up cutely. This little girl is a real one, one that throws herself into things and that includes being willing to argue with a potato.
This is one book that is anything but boring. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten by Hyewon Yum
A little boy is all set for the first day of Kindergarten, eager to start. His mother, on the other hand, is not quite to eager to see her little boy start school. The boy runs to school with his mother trailing behind, worried and blue. His mother frets about how big the school is, that they don’t know anyone there, but the boy is set to head in. Then in the hall, things change and suddenly it is the boy who is smaller and bluer and more concerned and his mother is glowing and ready for him to start. This book perfectly captures the mixed emotions of the first day of school for children and parents alike.
Yum manages in a just a few words to really show the eagerness the boy feels and the reticence of the mother. The boy is thrilled to be a big boy and head off to school, the mother is obviously seeing him a completely different light. The book really comes into its own when the change happens and suddenly the mother feels confident and the boy is unsure. It is that switch, that change that makes the entire book really work well.
Yum’s art also helps capture the emotions of the day. At first, the boy is much larger than his mother, bright colored and dashing. The mother is blue, almost wizened and delicate, worn away with worry. When the change of attitude happens, the mother grows steadily in size and gains color as the boy shrinks to normal size and becomes bluer. It’s a delight to watch the change come full circle by the end of the book where the day has ended and they are both large and bright.
A perfect pick for families facing their first day of Kindergarten this fall, this book will make a great jumping off place for discussions about the mixed emotions that everyone is sure to be feeling on the big day. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
This picture book is loosely based on the life of Virginia Wolf and her sister. Adults will enjoy the tie-ins, but they are not necessary for children to understand in order to enjoy the book. It is a story told from Vanessa’s point of view. Virginia was having a “wolfish” sort of day where nothing pleased her and any sort of noise bothered her. Vanessa tried to talk with her and discovered that Virginia was dreaming of a far-away perfect place to be. So Vanessa snuck away and found art supplies and paper to create that world for her sister. Soon her walls were covered in birds, butterflies, flowers and color. There was even room for a wolf to wander. Virginia’s mood lifted and she was ready to play once again.
This book takes a direct look at depression but can also be used for more transient moods of children. The author’s writing is rich and beautiful. When Virginia first gets depressed, she explains it this way: “The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.” When Vanessa paints the garden it is described this way: “I painted leaves that said hush in the wind and fruit that squeaked and slowly I created a place called Bloomsberry. I made it look just the way it sounded.” This is a book that not only has art as a solution and an escape, but also has art in the writing itself.
Arsenault’s illustrations have a wonder to them that is astonishing. Done in mixed media of ink, pencil, watercolor and gouache, the images play with darkness and light with a fearlessness. Color is used sparingly at first, then when the art appears it is lush and vibrant. One completely understands the way that art can lift a person. Perhaps my favorite small detail is that the art at first when seen through Vanessa’s eyes is adult, lush and fine lined. Later when glimpsed in retrospect, it has a childlike quality to it instead.
This picture book is a small work of art that speaks to the power of creativity and art to lift moods. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.