Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl (InfoSoup)
Sonya was given three tiny chicks by her father. It was her job to take good care of them. At first, the chicks liked in the house in a cardboard box while Sonya’s parents fixed up the coop in the yard. Soon they grew into pullets and were living outside. They followed Sonya everywhere she went. She took good care of them, giving them food and water and cleaning out their coop. They grew into three large happy hens and started laying eggs. Then one night, Sonya was woken by squawking in the chicken coop. She headed outside and one of her chickens was no longer there, only two hens were up in the rafters hiding. Sonya’s father explained that a fox had gotten the hen and told her about why he would have taken her. Sonya and her family had a funeral for the hen and worked to repair the coop so that a fox could not get in again. Then the circle started once more when one of the eggs began to hatch.
Wahl embraces honesty about the death of pets and grief in this picture book. Beautifully told, the loss of the chicken may surprise some readers. It is handled with care and truth, the father in the story explaining that the fox has to hunt for his family in order to feed his kits. Sonya is allowed time to express her feelings, supported by her family. The ending of the book has a new chick joining Sonya’s flock and her willing to continue on despite the loss. It’s a lesson in resilience.
The illustrations in this picture book are impressive. Done with watercolor, collage and colored pencil, they are vibrant and richly colored. The images show a mixed-race family in a rural setting, something that isn’t seen enough in picture books. They have a great textural feel and also depict a fully-realized home and family with most of the pictures taking up an entire page with their rich colors.
An honest look at grief and loss of a pet, this picture book is a winner. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Marvels by Brian Selznick (InfoSoup)
Released September 15, 2015.
The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret returns with his third book. In this novel that mixes his vivid artwork with longer passages of text, the focus is on one amazing family, The Marvels. It begins in the 18th century with a shipwreck where a boy survives the sinking of The Kraken and finds his way to London. Just as the ship was sinking, he had been participating in a play on board along with his brother who was killed in the wreck. So when he reached London, he found the Royal Theatre and people willing to take him in. Time passed and the boy turned into a man who one day finds a baby left on the theater doorstep. So begins a theatrical family until one generation does not want to be on stage anymore. Time turns again, now it is 1990 and the story is that of Joseph who has run away from boarding school to the home of his uncle whom he has never met. Looking through the windows of the home, it is as if a huge family has just left the room. But his uncle lives there alone. Odd noises filter through the house too, a bird sings where there is no bird and footsteps can be heard. As Joseph is allowed to stay, he discovers that he is living in a mystery and one that he must solve in order to understand his uncle.
This is another stunning novel from Selznick. Again it marries his art with his prose, both of which are beautiful and evocative. His art depicts the theater life and shows how like ship rigging the ropes all are. It shows art and family and irreconcilable differences. Then comes the prose where Selznick paints a picture of the uncle’s home with the same detail and care that he uses in his images. They come to life in a different but complementary way. It is stirring and beautiful to experience vivid depiction of two settings, one in text and the other in art. This results in a book that is visually arresting but also has prose that is worthy of celebrating and sinking into as well.
Joseph and his uncle are both very interesting characters. Both are rather isolated and lonely, finding their own space in the world. Both struggle to fit in, but also find ways that allow them to not have to change their own personality much at all. It is a book that looks at love and the various places you can find it in life as well as its power to transform. As the story unfolds, there are wonders and almost magic at work. This is an exploration of theater and performance too, a look at what is truth and what is real and an acknowledgement that theater can be both.
I was rapt when reading this novel. It is a treat to have a new Selznick to explore and this one lives up to his stellar reputation. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Released September 22, 2015.
Told in rhyme, this picture book is a celebration of a family preparing Thanksgiving dinner together. The nineteenth century American traditions echo our modern ones closely. Readers will see the turkey go into the wood-burning oven. Dough for the bread is kneaded and allowed to rise. There is cranberry sauce made on the stove and a pumpkin pie with hand-whipped topping. Mashed potatoes are added to the feast as well as a jug of cider. Soon everyone is gathered around the table and prayers are said together. It’s an American Thanksgiving done in true traditional style.
The rhyming stanzas evoke a feeling of a jaunty folksong as they tell the story of a family making their Thanksgiving dinner. The rhymes create a great rhythm to the book, that will have toes tapping if they are read with enough snap and vigor. The rhyme and rhythm combine to create a strong framework for the book, one where there is a building anticipation for the meal and for the family to all arrive. There are extended family present, including adult siblings, aunt, uncle and grandparents. Throughout, there is lots of work to be done but it is all done in good cheer and everyone lends a hand.
McElmurry’s illustrations have a folkart quality to them that works well. Done in paint, the illustrations are simple and warm, inviting you back in time to share a meal that is familiar to everyone. There are lots of period details in the images such as water pumps, dried herbs in bunches on the wall, a wash tub, and large cast iron pots and pans.
Warm and flavored with tradition and love, this book is as gratifying as a fresh loaf of bread. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.
Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Alina Chau
Told in individual poems, this is the story of a brother and sister who must move away from San Francisco and the extended family they have there, including their beloved Nai Nai. Before they leave, their grandmother gives them empty boxes to fill with reminders of where they have been. For Jake there is a penny, gum rolled into a snake shape, and a blue-green marble. For Gracie, there is a panda from home, a eucalyptus leaf, and one final elusive element from home. The children have adventures in the airport, make the transition to a new home with wintry weather, and throughout their connection with their family and their heritage stays strong.
Ling writes poems that shine with warmth. She captures what it feels like to be a beloved child in an extended family and the angst of leaving that place for another. Wrapped throughout the poems are references to China and Chinese-American culture that makes this book a real joy for its diversity that stays so strong throughout. The poems are individual but work together into a picture book that offers a way to cope with a move and to capture the changes and experiences along the way.
Chau’s illustrations are bright and friendly. The children are small on the page compared to the adults, and their size changes with the emotions they are feeling. Both are bright rays of colors on the page with their banana yellow and plum outfits. The illustrations too swirl with Chinese characters as well as symbols like the phoenix and dragons.
This book speaks to the emotions of moving through lovely poetry but also a concrete way to focus on the positive in the change. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)
Apple has lived with her Nana for eleven years, ever since her mother abandoned her at age 3. Nana is strict and won’t let Apple even walk back home from school. When Apple’s mother returns, she is sophisticated and charming and not strict at all. She wants Apple to live with her and it seems like a great idea, after all she will let Apple wear makeup, walk home from school, and even shares some sips of wine. Apple agrees to move in, leaving Nana living alone, and then she discovers that she has a younger sister, Rain. Rain carries a doll around with her and pretends that it is a real baby. As the sisters grow closer together, Apple’s mother starts to spend more time away, leaving Apple caring for Rain and missing school. When tragedy almost strikes, it will take a serious choice by Apple to figure out what sort of family she really wants to be a part of.
Nominated for the British Carnegie Medal, this novel’s writing is clear and lovely. Throughout this novel, Crossan deals with serious situations and large emotions. She uses metaphors to show the depth of emotion and also ties Apple’s emotions into the poems she writes. The images she uses are strong and compelling, allowing the reader to truly understand what Apple is feeling even when her emotions are at their most turbulent.
Crossan also excels at creating relationships between characters and this book is all about relationships on a variety of levels. We have friendships both budding and decaying, maternal relationships that are troubled, and sibling relationships that are problematic yet positive. In each of these, the people are human and real. They are invested in the relationship in their own unique way, often either unable to speak to its importance in their life or unable to see beyond themselves to its importance. Apple is a strong protagonist, longing for a relationship with a mother who even after she returns cannot be the mother than Apple needs. Apple is capable, caring and wonderfully like her Nana in many ways, a touch that I particularly appreciated.
This novel about families, abandonment, and freedom will resonate with middle school readers who may be feeling their own need to be a little less monitored too. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
The Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland (InfoSoup)
Marigold, Zinnie and Lily are sisters. They live busy lives in California where Marigold is hoping to have a real kiss for the first time, not one done on set. Zinnie is trying to get her curly wild hair under control and hopes to be able to spend time with Marigold and her friends. Lily is five and wants nothing more than to stay home with her nanny and eat great food. But then their parents get jobs out of town and the sisters are sent to spend the summer with an aunt they have never met across the country in Cape Cod. The three girls suddenly have to share a room with one another, live without a TV, not have cell phone service, and even the internet access is outdated and slow. Marigold is furious at losing a chance to be in a major film and having to spend time with her little sisters. Zinnie finds herself talking to trees for advice and watching for surprises created by special brownies. Lily longs for the food she had at home but also enjoys a good clambake too. Just as things seem to be starting to turn around, parts of California life appear and set everything askew again. These three sisters will have to figure out how to be themselves even when kisses, peer pressure and fame appear.
This book will inevitably be compared to the Penderwicks and rightly so. The sisters have that same spunk about them and the setting offers that timelessness that works so well. Though in this book, the girls chafe against the loss of TV and Internet, struggling to get along with one another. These sisters have fights, that are so well done that you understand both sides of the problem and can take the side of either one. The two older girls in particular both are human and far from perfect. Lily may look angelic but she too can throw tantrums and have horrible days, especially if baths are not negotiated properly.
It is that human quality that makes this book work so very well. The sisters are realistically portrayed and their relationships develop and change right in front of the reader in a way that makes sense. The unknown aunt turns out to be a very special person, kind and caring and someone who is a leader in the Cape Cod community. It’s a treat to see such a great female adult portrayed in a children’s book. One who is strong, enjoys children and gives them plenty of space to learn and grow without being overly odd or incompetent in any way.
A great summer read for fans of The Penderwicks, I’m hoping for another book featuring these girls. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Ask Me by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee (InfoSoup)
A little girl and her father take a walk through their neighborhood. Along the way, the girl asks her father to ask her questions like “Ask me what I like?” and he does, question after question. She finds a lot of nature along the walk to enjoy, from frogs to geese in the air and in the water, bugs, beetles, and flowers. She asks him to ask if she likes ice cream cones and they both happily walk away with cones after she announces how much she loves them. The two talk about trips they have taken together, favorite colors like the red balloon, stories, birds, and much more. Once back home, it’s time to think about her upcoming birthday and then time for bed.
Waber adeptly creates a realistic relationship between father and daughter here on the page. The use of her questions is particularly clever as it gives the book a repeating structure that feels natural and unforced. Parents will also recognize the way children want to be asked questions and have them answered. It is very effective to have this sort of relationship where the girl is saying what she wants out of their conversation and the father is happily agreeing. The entire day spent together is blissful and lovely and is entirely about their relationship with one another. Gorgeously structured and written.
Lee’s art is done in pencil. It dances along with gentle colors until suddenly fall bursts on the page. The deep rich colors don’t seem like pencil until you see the drawing lines on the page. The illustrations celebrate the closeness of this father and his daughter, playing with perspectives and celebrating their day outside in nature together.
Gorgeous illustrations and writing combine into one special picture book that is a dazzling book to share aloud. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wait by Antoinette Portis (InfoSoup)
As a boy and his mother move through an urban setting rushing to get on the train, the little boy just wants to slow down and look at things. There are ducks to feed, an ice cream truck to linger near, a butterfly to try to touch, and much more. Each little item has the boy saying “wait” while the mother says “hurry.” It’s a dance that parents will immediately recognize. A rain storm has them hurrying to put on a raincoat. Just as the pair are about to catch their train successfully though, the rain ends and there is a rainbow that stops them both and has them waiting together.
This very simple book has only two words throughout: wait and hurry. It’s one of those books that will allow very young children to try to read it to themselves once they can identify the two words. Children and parents alike will also see their own morning rush in the book. While they may not catch a train, they will have to wear coats, try to get ice cream, and see neat animals almost every morning themselves.
Portis’ illustrations are friendly and large. Done with thick black lines with lots of texture using charcoal, pencil and ink, the illustrations perfectly capture the tug of slowing down with the need to hurry. The urban setting is done in the friendliest of ways and the various distractions are too. These are the merry things that slow toddlers and young children to a crawl even as time ticks away.
Toddlers will love this book about how important it is to stop and see the rainbows, the ducks, the butterflies, and everything else! Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle (InfoSoup)
When Addy’s play date is finished, she is taken home in a car by her father and mother. Her little sister is along for the ride too and the moon shines outside of their windows. It is sometimes high in the sky, other times low under a bridge. It follows them over a bridge, through the hills. It is sometimes so close that you would think you could catch it in your hands. The moon goes all the way to their home with them, waiting outside during their bath and then celebrates along with Addy during her nighttime dance. It’s even there when she finally goes to bed.
Pearle has written a poem to the moon, celebrating the way that it shines on all children from up above. She captures the way that the moon seems to shift positions as you drive, the joy of open windows and wind, and the peek-a-boo that the moon plays with clouds and objects. The text is simple and poetic, creating a mood of joy and universal pleasure in heading home at night.
The illustrations here are stunningly beautiful. Done in cut-paper collage, they are astonishing. Pearle captures the feel of a dog’s fur, the play of moonlight across large buildings, the deep purple of the night as it arrives. She also changes the color of the moon as the journey continues, allowing it to take over the final pages with its splendor.
This moonlit book is gorgeous and just right for a bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.