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have to share a room with one another, live without a TV, not have cell phone service, and even the internet access is outdated and slow.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.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
A modern teen meets the legendary Baba Yaga in this graphic novel that mixes traditional Russian folklore with modern-day mixed families. Masha was raised primarily by her grandmother who told her stories of her own time with Baba Yaga in her house that walks on chicken legs as well as stories of other children who lived with the old witch. So when Masha sees an ad in the paper for an assistant, she sets off to take the job with some confidence, a lot more than she feels about her father’s new girlfriend and her daughter. Baba Yaga sets Masha through a series of tests like outwitting a huge bear, cleaning the filthy house, and even getting inside in the first place. But when the daughter of her father’s girlfriend shows up as one of the children ready to become Baba Yaga’s dinner, Masha intervenes and saves all of the children, even if they don’t want her help. But that act alone may have cost her the assistant position and her adventures with Baba Yaga.
McCoola’s story is a dark and dangerous tale, one that does not laugh at the legends of Baba Yaga, but instead makes her all the more frightening. Still there is a great sense of humor throughout. The story closely relates to other tales of Baba Yaga and her house. In fact, the characters refer to other tales, other adventures and use that knowledge to escape their situation. It’s a clever use of traditional stories to create a robust modern tale of adventure and magic.
The illustrations by Carroll embrace the darkness of the story. My advanced reader copy was entirely in black and white, so I can’t speak to the colors of the final version, but the drawings have a modern edge to them that makes them exciting and fresh. A different style is used when there are flashbacks to the other stories, making sure that readers know that it is a different tale. The final pages of my copy contain some character studies for the illustrations that make for fascinating reading too.
Dark, dramatic and great fun, this graphic novel is a memorable mix of old and new into something amazing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates (InfoSoup)
A family is headed to a beach house after waiting a year for summer to return. When they arrive it’s not time for the beach yet. The car has to be unloaded and things have to be unpacked. The kids make their beds, but can’t stop looking out the window at the waves and the beach. Then chores are done and it’s time to go! The family heads out to the beach where they spend the day in the water, building sandcastles, clam digging, chasing crabs and much more. In the evening, they have a campfire and roast hotdogs before heading inside for baths and bed. And one last moonlit look at the beach before falling asleep.
Caswell captures the beach and the sun and the water and sand in her rhyming couplets. It could be a sea, it could be a lake, it’s all about the experience of being near water and playing in waves. A day spent with family soaking in the sun and then being together still when the day is done. Families who have spent time together near the water will all recognize their days of sun and waves on these pages.
The illustrations shine with golden sand and dancing water. They are filled with the movement of the breeze at the beach, with the joy of the sun and the connection with family. One can almost smell the campfire smoke in the air or the ocean salt. The pictures here sing with freedom and long days spent together. The washes of watercolor that make the waves and the sky create a sense of timeless ease on the page.
A book of family connection and love that brings the glory of a beach vacation right off the page. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Bridge, Tab and Em vowed to be best friends years ago and over a shared Twinkie swore that they would have one rule only: no fighting. Now that the girls are in seventh grade, things are starting to change. Em has gotten some new curves and is spending a lot of time with the other girls on her soccer team. Bridge has started wearing cat ears to school every day, just because they feel right. Tab has joined the social responsibility club and rails against anything sexist. Meanwhile there is a high school girl, nameless, who avoids Valentine’s Day at school and leaves her parents to worry about her, because she has done something dreadful. Em starts to flirt with a boy on her phone, and it progresses until he asks her for a picture of herself after sending her one of him without a shirt. Meanwhile Bridge has become friends with Sherm, a boy whose family just fell apart when his grandfather left his grandmother. As the book progresses, friendships become frayed, betrayals happen, vengeance is taken, and yes, the friends even fight. It is middle school after all!
Stead finely captures the feeling of middle school, of just being in the process of changing and growing up, of different people being at various points of maturity both physically and mentally, of meeting new people and maybe being attracted in a different way, and of trying to stay friends through it all. Happily too, it is a book that shows the heart of girls, the bravery of being a modern kid, and the choices that are made. This is not a book that laughs at the antics of pre-teens, but one that celebrates them and this moment in their lives in all of its baffling complexity.
The characters are all interesting, all likeable except for some of the secondary characters who are mean girls. There are many voices in this book from the three main girl characters to Sherm to the unnamed teen. They are all very distinct from one another. The author uses a technique of doing the teen girl in a different perspective than the rest of the book which sets those chapters apart. Despite the number of voices, the book remains clear and shows in many ways the difficult decisions that come from starting to try to figure out who exactly you are going to be.
Another amazing read from Stead, this novel offers a rich look at middle school. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Wendy Lamb Books.
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (InfoSoup)
Buckley and his mother live together in a little cabin near the ocean. Buckley loves to explore the beach near their house, collecting driftwood to build little boats. One day he sends a favorite boat out to his father, whom he thinks about often. He decides that if the boat never returns that it means his father received it. The boat doesn’t come back. From then on, on special days, he and his mother send a boat off to his father. Buckley’s boats get better and better. Then on his birthday, Buckley forgets to put the note on his boat that says that it’s for his father and how much he loves him. Buckley heads inside to find paper for the note and discovers that his mother has been collecting all of the boats Buckley has sent to his father. So when Buckley sends his birthday boat out onto the ocean, he’s made one big change.
Bagley’s book grapples with some huge issues like grief and loss but it does so in a way that allows children to approach the situation at their own level. It never forces emotions onto the reader, instead making those emotions much more intense by having characters who internalize much of their grief. The use of boats to send a message is beautiful and moving in itself. The fact that the mother is collecting them, yet allowing her son his own grieving process is also very special.
The artwork in the book is done with pen and watercolor. It offers so much detail, creating a setting that is rich and warm. It suits the story so well, giving the reader a chance to realize on their own that the mother is also sad and grieving in her own way even while supporting her young son and protecting him. The natural setting is awash in watercolors, giving it flow and a luminous quality that lets light shine from the sky and ocean too.
Grief and loss are made beautiful and tangible in this picture book that offers such grace and nurturing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka (InfoSoup)
Oliver and his dad have had a great summer together, playing and doing so much. Now it’s time for Oliver to start school for the first time. Oliver is all ready and excited to go. But that first morning, Dad’s stomach starts to hurt. He’s nervous and when it’s time to leave the house he even hides from Oliver. But Oliver manages to get his dad to the car, though he drives to school very slowly. Once there, Oliver happily joins the class but his father starts to cry when it’s time for him to leave Oliver in school. Back home, Dad thinks a lot about Oliver and heads off to school to check on him. Through the door, he sees Oliver happily participating in class and realizes that they are both ready for school after all.
Wohnoutka takes the first day of school jitters and turns them on their head with this cheery picture book. The father in the book acts just like a child at times, adding to the broad humor in the book. Most of the time though parents will recognize their own feelings about a child entering school for the first time. It’s a great title to have conversations about how you and your child are feeling about school and the fact that you will both miss one another even when you are both ready to start school.
The illustrations are approachable and have a cartoony appeal. Dad in particular is a wonderful rendition of a middle-aged father. There is cause for celebration when you have a back-to-school book focused on a father who takes care of his child and then also cares so emotionally as well. The illustrations amp up the emotions and then take a humorous approach to keep the book sunny and silly.
A back-to-school book for the entire family, parents too, this picture book will have families laughing even as the first day of school approaches. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.