Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes
On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line. Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder. The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning. When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine. Sun sets and baths are given. The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.
Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page. White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth. In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end. Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.
Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator. Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured. She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm. Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud.
This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
The Everlasting Embrace by Gabrielle Emanuel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
A toddler spends her day in Mali strapped to her mother’s back. Told from her point of view, this picture book celebrates the strong bond that occurs between mother and child as they spend their entire day together. The little one is bound to her back and they move as one. She is there as her mother beats millet with a pestle. There when her mother carries it back home in a basket balanced on her head. During the day, her mother tickles her, reaching behind to touch her little girl. They dance together, the rhythms of their day lulling the baby to sleep at times. They shelter together in the shade the big basket of mangoes makes when her mother carries it. When they return home, the little girl carries her teddy bear bound to her back. These days together are precious as the little girl will soon be too big to carry all day. But the bond they have formed together will never go away.
Emanuel lived in Mali for a year after graduating from college. While she was there, she shared stories aloud with a little girl, but found that there were no picture books that she could read her about her own country and lifestyle. So Emanuel created this one. It is a very strong debut picture book with writing that is confident and a point of view that is unique. Told from the view of the little girl on her mother’s back, one never worries that she is being neglected or ignored as the mother goes through her day. Rather one quickly realizes that she is content, cared for and completely part of her mother’s daily life.
Lewis is an extraordinary illustrator. He captures life in Mali clearly on the page, showing the mother and daughter together at home, walking through the markets, doing chores and spending time together even when the mother is busy doing other things. There is a joy in his images, a dedication to truly capture this country and its way of life on the page.
Strong, beautiful and unique, this picture book takes children on a journey to Mali where they will see life lived differently and warmly. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Outside In by Sarah Ellis
Lynn has a busy life with two best friends, choir, and a mother who keeps messing things up. Her mother can’t hold down a job and the man who has brought a lot of stability to their little family for a few years has just left because her mother cheated on him. Luckily, he is allowing them to keep living in his condo for a few months. When Lynn chokes on a butterscotch candy at the bus stop, an unknown person helps her. All Lynn knows about the person is that they were wearing a plaid skirt. Lynn sets out to find them, but it isn’t until she gives up that Blossom introduces herself. As her choir sets off to the United States for a competition, Lynn discovers that her mother hasn’t sent in the paperwork for her passport so she can’t attend. Her friends head out without her and Lynn starts to get closer to Blossom, a strange girl who talks about disguising herself as a “citizen” and lives off the grid. Soon Lynn has been drawn into the incredible alternate life of Blossom and her family. But some things they are doing may not actually be legal and in order to be part of their lives Lynn has to promise to never reveal that they exist. Lynn’s life works as long as the two worlds remain completely separate, but how long can she lie to her friends and mother?
Ellis is a Canadian author and this book is clearly set in Canada. Lynn’s own family life is portrayed realistically and with great empathy both for her and for her mother. There is no great villain here, only humans who make mistakes. The lives of the “Underlanders” are shown as a balanced mix of utopian and harsh. The moral questions about what they are doing emerge very naturally as the plot moves forward. Then at the same time, Lynn herself is struggling with the moral ambiguity of lying to her loved ones about what she is doing in order to keep the Underlanders safe. Again, there are no right answers here, it is about the puzzles of good and bad, wrong and right.
Lynn is a fairly straightforward character caught in a world where her mother is eccentric and unreliable but her friends are her rocks. Her new relationship with Blossom captures the fact that she has some of her mother in her as well, something that wants a simpler life and a more unique and meaningful one. Ellis manages to show this without ever mentioning it, allowing her readers to deeply understand Lynn beyond what Lynn does herself.
A complex and short novel for teens, this book is richly written, filled with ethical choices, and made beautiful by a glimpse into another way of life. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers. It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal. He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on. He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world. So Blizz almost never sees his family. But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion. Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet. It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them. Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way.
Sherry has such a great touch for humor. Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore. He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format. Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone. He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story. The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.
The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books. With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly. One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids, They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.
Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Blizzard by John Rocco
Rocco tells a story from his childhood of the blizzard of 1978 that dumped 53 inches of snow on his Rhode Island town. The story begins with just a few flakes in the air and by the time school closes and the children make their way home, the snow is getting deeper and deeper. The next morning, the drifts were so high that they had to leave the house through the window rather than the door. The snowplows stopped running because the snow was too deep. They were isolated and at first it was great fun with days of playing in the snow and drinking mugs of hot cocoa with milk. Then after a few days, food got scarcer and the cocoa was being made with water. It was up to a ten-year-old John to make his way to the grocery store pulling his sled with tennis rackets strapped to his feet.
Rocco embraces the wonder of a huge snowfall in this picture book. The delight of a landscape and world changed into something foreign and incredible. The changes to routine, the cancelation of school, families stuck inside together, the futility of trying to dig out paths. He celebrates it all on the page and then moves the story to an arctic exploration of one boy against the elements, complete with a map of his route to the store. There is a rich humor throughout the narrative that reassures children that the family is not going to starve but also offers real reason to travel to the store, watery cocoa!
Rocco’s art cleverly incorporates the days of the week in the art, from snow on branches spelling out the word to a squirrels trail on the roof. The cool white and blues of the outdoors are contrasted fully with the yellows of the indoor world of the family. The disjointed attempts at clearing the snow are cleverly done, speaking to the power of intent but also the depth of the snow and the effort required to clear it.
Perfect for folks in Buffalo, but also a great story to read when any snowstorm is drifting your way, preferably with mugs of milk hot cocoa. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all. So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun. Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play. There are also other monsters all over their house. When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory! So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her. Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her. In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.
Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan. Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.
Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read. Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day. On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.
Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton continues the story of the town of Buxton and the people who live there. This book, which takes place forty years after the first book, is the story of two boys, Benji and Red. Benji, who lives in Buxton, dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter. He has two pesky younger siblings who also happen to be gifted builders with wood. That doesn’t mean though that Benji doesn’t try to put them in their place when they need it. Benji also has a way with the forest, spending hours walking the trails and exploring. He is one of the first to see the Madman of Piney Woods. Red is a scientist. He’s been raised by his father and maternal grandmother, who hates anyone who isn’t Irish like she is. She is strict with Red, smacking him regularly with her cane hard enough to raise a lump. When the two boys meet, they immediately become friends even though their backgrounds are so different. But can their friendship withstand the brimming hatred of some people in their communities?
I loved Elijah of Buxton so much and I started this book rather gingerly, hoping that it would be just as special as the original. Happily, it certainly is. It has a wonderful feeling to it, a rich storytelling that hearkens back to Mark Twain and other classic boyhood friendship books. Curtis makes sure that we know how different these two boys are: one with a large family, the other small, different races, different points of view. Yet it feels so right when the two boys are immediate friends, readers will have known all along that they suit one another.
Curtis explores deep themes in this novel, offering relief in the form of the exploits of the two boys as they figure out ways to mess with their siblings and escape domineering grandmothers. There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. Other scenes though are gut-wrenching and powerful. They explore themes like the damage done to the psyche during wars, racism, ambition, responsibility and family ties. It is a testament to the writing of Curtis that both the humor and the drama come together into an exquisite mix of laughter and tears.
A great novel worthy of following the award-winning original, this book will be met with cheers by teachers and young readers alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.
Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole
When the Berlin Wall was built, a boy was separated from his father who was on the other side. His mother told him that his father was in a place where life was better. They were not allowed to leave their side of Berlin. The boy dreamed of his father coming and rescuing them, but he knew that was unlikely to happen. So he started to plan ways to get past the wall himself. Other people tried to get past the wall, many of them died in their attempts. But it was worth the risk to see his father once again, so the boy started digging out in the woods near the wall. When the tunnel was ready, the boy led his family to it, but along the way they were stopped by a soldier. Would this be the end of their brave journey to reunite their family?
Cole captures the separation and division caused by the Berlin Wall. He also clearly shows the fierce drive of a family to reunite and be together once again. Told in very simple sentences, the book relies on its fine artwork to carry the story. It is the art that conveys the danger, the deaths and the risks that people took to see loved ones again or to attain freedom.
The art here is exceptional. Cole uses lighting on his pages to show the hope of the West versus the darkness and gray of the other side of the wall. The illustrations are atmospheric and dramatic. They convey the feeling of isolation and the fear.
A strong picture book about the Berlin Wall and the power of family and hope. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Glory can’t see a future for herself. She has no plans once she graduates from high school, not applying to any colleges. Perhaps she is just like her dead mother, who committed suicide four years ago. It’s the reason that Glory has only eaten microwaved food years, since her father won’t replace the oven her mother used to kill herself. Glory can’t even seem to get along with her best friend who lives across the road in a commune. It was there that they found the desiccated bat that they mixed with water and drank. It was a decision that changed Glory’s life because now when she looks at other people she can see their future, and it’s a future that is filled with civil war, hate of women, and horror. As Glory sees everyone’s future but her own, she starts to slowly explore the family secrets that surround her and even her own way forward.
King is amazing. While the cover may compare her to John Green, she is has a voice that is entirely unique and her own. King has created here a book that mixes photography with philosophy. Glory speaks the language of film, pre-digital and more physical and tangible. She uses light meters and ties the numbers she uses directly to her life: “By shooting the darkest areas three zones lighter, you turned a black, lifeless max black zone 0 into a zone 3. I think, in life, most of us did this all the time.” King also embraces a fierce and beautiful feminism in this book. It’s the feminism that we all viscerally crave, one that speaks to the power of girls and women, a feminism that can save us from ovens.
Glory is such a strong character. I love that she is cool and real, and yet she feels that she is the most awkward, unsexy and unreal person in the world. That is such a teen feeling, a feeling of hiding and being masked and fake. King captures it beautifully. Glory grows throughout the book, emerging from behind all of the barriers that she has set up for others before they can meet who she really is. The problem is that she is also hiding from herself.
Strong, beautiful, feminist and fierce, this book is one inspiring read for all of us who hide and need to be found by ourselves. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Based on a Yiddish folksong, this picture book celebrates the thrift, hard work and skills of immigrants to the United States. Told in the first person by the grandchild, this book looks at one man who came to the US and worked hard as a tailor. He met a woman and they got married and he made his own coat for the wedding. He wore it everywhere until finally, it was worn it. So then what did he do? He made it into a jacket. He wore that everywhere and eventually wore it out too. So then he made it into a vest. He then wore that until it was frayed. The book progresses through a necktie and finally a stuffed mouse made from the last of the old fabric and even when that is eventually torn apart, a mouse finds it to be perfect for her nest.
Aylesworth uses a repeating structure throughout this book, first introducing his character of the grandfather and then having him make a garment, wear it out, make another, and start the cycle again. He uses just the right amount of rhythm and rhyme to hold the story together, making the repetition clear and rollicking. It reads like a folk tale, filled with a celebration of one man and his skills at reusing things.
McClintock’s illustrations suit this subject matter perfectly. Her artwork’s vintage feel is right at home here, creating repeating tableaus on the page that reflect the changing time as children grow up and also the process and time of recreating garments from the scraps. Her art shows the loving family, the shrinking deep blue fabric, and the passage of time.
This story of reuse and recycling takes that modern movement and translates it directly into the frugality of our American ancestors. Cleverly written, striking illustrated and a great read aloud, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.