Tag Archive: friendship


lowriders in space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars.  They dream of one day having their own garage.  Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics.  El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms.  Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars.  Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders.  So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter.  Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do.  This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.

Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture.  Her characters are clever done.  The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too.  The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space.  The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.

The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all.  Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging. 

This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

over there

Over There by Steve Pilcher

Shredder lives all by himself in the big forest.  He has a cozy bed in a matchbox under a maple tree, he has plenty to eat which means worms since he’s a shrew, and he has a pet acorn.  But acorns can’t talk and Shredder felt that something was missing.  So he sets off to see if there is something more out there.  Seeing a twinking in the distance, he heads out to see what it is.  After a long journey all night, it turns out to be a tiny silver boat and Shredder climbs aboard.  But the boat doesn’t float for long.  Happily, just as Shredder disappears under the water, a hand reaches out to save him.  It’s a mole, named Nosey.  As the two of them spend time together, Shredder starts to realize that he has found “something more” after all.

Pilcher’s story is straight forward and speaks directly to loneliness and the journey to find a new friend.  He incorporates clever elements that create wonderful quiet moments in the book.  The time that Shredder spends with his silent acorn pet, the question of what the shining thing in the distance is, the floating moments on the water, the warmth of new friendship. 

What is most special about the book though is the art.  Done by Disney Press as part of their Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase, it will come as no surprise that the entire book reads like an animated movie.  The backgrounds on the page have a cinematic depth to them.  Shredder himself is immensely likeable as a character, a tiny shrew often dwarfed by the world around him. 

A fine picture book, this book is very appealing thanks to its friendly art and the jolly adventure at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

farmer and the clown

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

In a wordless picture book, Frazee captures what happens when a young clown falls off of a circus train and is rescued by a lonely farmer.  The desolate and flat landscape is unbroken until the bright circus train passes.  The farmer is clearly reluctant to take in the bright little smiling clown, but he does anyway, taking him by the hand back to his tiny house.  There, the two of them sit together, share a meal and eventually wash up and the clown washes off his face paint.  Now it is the little clown who is worried and sad, his smile removed with the water.  The farmer sits with him as he tries to fall asleep.  Along with the light of dawn, the farmer starts to cheer up the little clown with silly faces and antics.  Soon the two are living a mix of their two lives:  eggs are gathered and juggled, hard work is shared, and the two head out on a picnic together.  While on the picnic, they hear a train coming and it is the circus train filled with clowns.  But somehow, the ending is not sad as the little clown returns to his family and the farmer returns to his farm, both changed forever.

I’m not sure how Frazee manages to convey so much in a wordless format.  She uses symbolism, like the face paint for removing barriers, the connection of the characters through held hands, and their very different hats being removed and shared and eventually exchanged.  It’s lovely and heartfelt and very special. 

I’ve seen this book on a lot of people’s top book lists for the year, and I completely agree.  It’s a gem of a book that has such depths to explore.  The wordless format might imply a simple story, but here readers will find subtlety about friendship, caring for others, and building connections. 

A masterpiece of wordless storytelling, this is a radiant picture book made to be shared.  Appropriate for ages 2-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

categorical universe of candice phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

This Australian award winner is the story of 12-year-old Candice who is completing a school project that is supposed to be a paragraph for each letter of the alphabet that reveals something about her.  But Candice can’t keep it to one paragraph, so she begins to do chapters for each letter and the words she chooses for each letter are unexpected too.  As she writes, Candice is telling the story of her family and her pet fish.  She worries about her family falling apart, since her mother is still grieving the loss of Candice’s baby sister Sky to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Her father is working on software in his spare time to prove that he can be as successful as his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, or flying his toy plane.  Either way, both parents are self-absorbed rather than paying attention to Candice.  She also doesn’t have any friends, until an unusual boy comes to school, a boy who believes that he’s traveled to another dimension and spends his time trying to get back home by falling out of a tree.  It seems to Candice that it’s up to her to fix a lot of what’s wrong, but how can she?

Jonsberg has crafted a unique character in Candice.  She may or may not be on the autism spectrum, but it is clear that she is different from the others in her grade and that they know it.  Yet Candice functions fully, just in her own way.  She loves her family, makes connections with others, and cares deeply about what is happening around her.  She just does it in her own way, one that makes sense and that shows just how smart she is. 

The book is wonderfully funny, with situations that are almost slapstick at times and others that are cleverly worked.  The scene where Candice forces herself to get on her uncle’s boat to talk about the problems between him and her father is classic nausea humor that is done to perfection.  Yet the book has plenty of depth too, with the deep depression that her mother has fallen into and even a little romance.

Strong writing keeps this complex book from tangling into knots and a strong protagonist gives it a unique and smart voice.   A great Australian import that is ideal for middle grade readers. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Chronicle Books and Edelweiss.

my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

wednesday

Wednesday by Anne Bertier

Little Round and Big Square are the best of friends.  Every week on Wednesday, they get together to play their favorite game: one of them says a word and they both transform into it.  Big Square starts with “butterfly” and the two of them change into butterflies, Big Square with sharp angles and Little Round with half circles.  They go through “flower” and “mushroom” until Big Square gets carried away and starts naming lots of different things all at once, things that Little Round can’t shift into.  Soon the friends are arguing, but just like with any friendship there are rough patches and they both have to figure out how to fix it. 

Done in just two colors, the dot and the square and the many shapes they make pop on the page, the blue and orange contrasting vibrantly on the white background.  It is the illustrations that tell the story here, and the strong style they are done in is striking.  Children will immediately relate to both the square and the circle.  They may not have faces, but they convey emotions clearly on the page from anger to exuberance to friendship. 

Strong and vibrant, this picture book translated from the French, is a great pick for units on friendship or shapes.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

oliver's tree

Oliver’s Tree by Kit Chase

Oliver, Charlie and Lulu are three best friends who love to play together outside.  When they play hide-and-seek though, Oliver doesn’t have as much fun as the others.  Lulu is a bird who loves to hide in the trees and Charlie the rabbit does too.  But Oliver is an elephant, and he doesn’t like trees at all, since he can’t climb them.  So the three friends set out to find a tree that will work for Oliver.  The low trees are too small for him.  Trees with big branches are too tall.  When they finally find a big low branch, Oliver is thrilled.  But then the branch breaks.  Oliver has had enough and runs off to be on his own.  He settles down on a huge tree stump and dozes off.  That’s when his friends have one great idea that saves the day and creates a tree that even an elephant can love!

Chase sets a pitch-perfect tone here for young children.  It’s a pleasure to see three children playing together in a picture book that is not about jealousy.  This instead is a book that celebrates differences and has children who work together to solve a problem in a creative way.  The result is a jolly book that has a fast pace and a cheery personality.

Chase’s illustrations have the same bounce as the text of the book.  They have a friendly quality that children will immediately respond to as well as a sweet humor that is cheerful.

It’s perfect tree climbing season right now, even if you are an elephant!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

lion and the bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

One day a lion discovers a hurt bird in his garden.  He bandages the bird’s damaged wing, but then the rest of the bird’s flock flies away, migrating for the winter.  So the lion takes the bird into his home.  Throughout the winter, the bird and the lion spend each day together doing all sorts of things.  And the lion notices that the winter doesn’t seem as cold with a friend along with him.  Then spring arrives and the bird’s wing has mended, so the bird heads off to join its flock as they return for the warm weather.  Lion is once again alone and now he misses his friend.  Lion spends all summer alone, tending his garden.  Then autumn comes again and Lion hopes to see his friend return, but will he?

Dubuc is a Canadian author who is internationally known.  She has a decidedly European vibe to her work with its quietness and the message of larger things written in the small world she creates on the page.  She cleverly shows the passing of the seasons using pages of white that allow space for the time to pass for the reader.  The book is also a lovely riff on The Lion and the Mouse, except in this book the lion is the one doing the kindness for another creature and the payback of the kindness is more delicate in the form of friendship.

Dubuc’s art is exceptional.  Her fine lines show both close-ups of the friends together and also vistas of the world they live in.  There is a feeling of smallness, closeness and a limited world that Lion lives in.  That contrasts with the bird leaving on migration and exiting this close world.

A noteworthy picture book, this new title by Dubuc is charming and warm.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

adventures of beekle

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Join Beekle, an imaginary friend, who is so special that no child seems to be able to even imagine him.  He waits and waits along with the other imaginary creatures, but he is never dreamed of by a child.  So Beekle does what no other imaginary friend has ever done, he heads out to find his child in the real world.  He finds himself in a big city, filled with grey people and lots of adults.  Luckily, he spots a bright familiar color and shape and follows it to a playground where he thinks he can find his special friend.  But they don’t come.  Beekle climbs a tree to see if he can spot his friend, but still no one comes.  Beekle climbs down, then a small girls gestures for him to get her paper out of the tree.  And on that page…  Well, you will just have to imagine it for yourself or get this charmer of a book to read and find out what happens next.

Santat has created a book that reads like a modern classic.  He has combined so many wonderful moments and positive feelings here that it’s like drinking a cup of cocoa for the spirit.  Beekle himself is perfection, a round and friendly little soul whose crown is made of construction paper and tape and who is unwilling to sit lonely when he could do something about his situation.  His positive reaction to a dismal situation is a great model for children. 

At the same time, this is a testament to imagination.  Both a warm embrace of imaginary friends and their positive role in children’s lives.  But also a celebration of Santat’s own imagination.  The world he creates is filled with the grey of adulthood, but childhood and imagination make that world shine in new colors. 

A delight of a picture book, this is one to share cuddled up in bed and to cheer aloud with the story.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

winston george

Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco

Released March 21, 2014.

Winston is a crocodile and George is a crocodile bird, the kind of bird that cleans a crocodile’s skin.  The two of them would fish together in the river with George calling out when he saw a fish and Winston diving into the water to catch it.  Then they would share the meal together on shore.  But George had the bad habit of playing pranks on all of the crocodiles as well as on Winston.  The other crocodiles tell Winston to just eat George to end the problem, but Winston can’t eat his friend.  Then George takes a prank too far and puts Winston’s life in danger.  He has to convince the other crocodiles and animals to help, but at what price?

Written and illustrated 50 years ago, this picture book is finally being published.  Unfortunately, the illustrator died in 2006, so he did not live to see this work finally come to the public.  Happily though, the book is fresh and vibrant with a wonderful vintage feel that makes it feel like an immediate classic.  Miller’s words are simple and drive the story forward at a fast pace.  The ending is immensely satisfying and sharing it aloud one can expect cheers of joy and relief.

Cucco’s illustrations are superb.  They have a wonderful grace of line combined with bright tropical colors that pop on the page.  The dramatic moments of the book are captured with plenty of motion and action.  Best of all, the humor of the text translates directly into humor of image. 

A humorous and dramatic look at an unusual friendship, one only wishes that Winston & George could go on more adventures together.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

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