The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
The Midnight Library only opens at night. Then a little librarian and her three owl assistants help all sorts of animals find the right books. The library was quiet and peaceful until a band of squirrels showed up looking for a place to practice. Luckily, the library had an activity room where they could play music without disturbing anyone else. It was quiet again until it started to rain, but it was raining inside the library. It was Mrs. Wolf crying about something she read in a book. The librarian and her assistants helped her finish the story and reach the happy ending. Finally, it was time to close for the night and there was one very slow patron who would not leave, but the little librarian solved that situation happily too. This is a clever and creative look at libraries and their services in a way that children will easily relate to.
Kohara is author of several other picture books all done in her signature style. Here she cleverly takes a library and adds mystery by making it open at night. The addition of animals as patrons also creates an interesting twist. I also appreciated a library being depicted as a place that you can play music. So often the focus is on the quiet and solitude, but this is one happening library!
Kohara uses the colors on the cover of the book throughout the story. The deep blues and blacks are enlivened by the bright yellow-orange that forms most of the background. Her use of printmaking techniques creates thick lines with an organic dappling effect. These prints feel like woodblocks but have lines that swirl and curve unlike most block prints.
Clever, lively and great fun, this picture book is perfect for sleepy library fans. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators. According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn. They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children. The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song. This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!
Brown’s poems are simple and lovely. Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style. Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words. She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one. I have a handful of top favorites from the book: “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.
The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books. There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem. Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow. The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.
A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure
Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country. That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace. This book is much the same. The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again. It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song.
McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book. Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness. Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past. There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.
A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.
Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai
When Hannah woke up one day, she was surprised to find that it was still night. She tried to wake up her older sister, but she would not wake up. So Hannah headed downstairs with Shiro the cat. She checked on her parents and they were asleep too. Hannah gave Shiro some milk, ate some cherries right from the refrigerator, and no one scolded her. When Hannah returned to her bedroom, she checked again on her sister. Then she borrowed her sister’s doll, her music box, and her art supplies and played with them on her bed. As dawn arrives, Hannah gets sleepy again and falls back asleep.
Sakai has created a beautiful little book filled with the glow of the moon and the delight of the night. What is done best here is the lack of drama or danger. Instead it is a story of small mischiefs and safety. The stealing out of bed itself is enough to drive the story forward and keeps the book moving yet doesn’t make it scary or frightening at all. The matter-of-fact tone of the writing also adds to the peaceful feel of the book.
Sakai’s art is rich and textured. Layered and filled with the blues of night, the images have a radiant delicacy. The combination of rough edges and the detail of sleepy eyelashes create a book that is beautiful to look at as well as a pleasure to share aloud.
A nighttime story, this is one bedtime story that may not keep little wanderers in bed but is worth sharing all the same. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Who Goes There? by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Anna Currey
On this bitter cold day in Wisconsin, it’s a treat to review a book that has a little mouse preparing for the winter cold. Lewis lived alone in the base of a tall tree. He prepared for winter by stuffing his home with leaves, twigs and grass. Once he was cozy inside though he realized that something was missing. Then he heard a noise that wasn’t the wind. It was a scratching and tapping noise. Lewis shouted “Who goes there!” but no one answered. Could it be a cat? An owl? A bear? As the noise repeated, Lewis continued to yell. Eventually, he was out in the wind and night investigating the sounds. Lewis will discover not only what is making the sound but exactly what he is missing too.
Wilson, author of the very popular Bear Snores On series, has another winning animal character. Lewis is a gutsy little mouse who shouts at strange noises and then investigates them despite his fears. Wilson uses lots of repetition here, making it perfect for sharing aloud. The noises always have the same pattern of sounds and Lewis always shouts back the same reply. This helps build tension in the story as well, just enough for little ones to be fully engrossed in the tale.
Currey’s illustrations have a great play of contrasts between the warm light of Lewis’ hole filled with tiny furniture and nuts and the wild blue of the outside at night. Both are equally lovely, the browns and golds of Lewis’ home shine while the deep blues of the outside glimmer with moonlight.
A perfect bedtime read for a cold day, this book is also a great choice for autumn story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Moonday by Adam Rex
This luminous picture book answers the question about what would happen if the moon lowered itself into your backyard. The boy in the story finds the moon so slow in his yard that he can not just touch it, but climb around on it and into its craters. The rest of the world though, stayed dark as night. The children had to go to school in the darkness and everyone was tired. Back home, they tried to hide the moon under tablecloths and blankets. But then the tide entered their yard and the dogs gathered to howl at the moon too. So the family took the moon for a drive and it followed their car until they went to the top of a big hill and it got caught in the tops of the trees. They asked it to stay there, and there it hung, once more high in the air.
This is a treat of a picture book. It doesn’t just ask the question about what would happen if the moon dropped into your yard, but it also finds a solution that is satisfying and beautiful. I loved that the story is bookended by the drive in the car where the moon followed them home and then another drive where they returned it to the sky. The entire book has a sense of wonder about it, but also a great foundation of practicality and humor.
Rex’s art glows on the page. The moon is bright and round, filling every page it appears on with a white, wintry glow. The other pages show the darkness which makes the moon all that much brighter when it appears. The moon covered with tablecloths and blankets is not dimmer at all, just lightly patterned.
Magical and beautiful, this book is dreamlike and special. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dusk by Uri Shulevitz
On a snowy December evening, a boy, his dog, and grandfather talk a walk. They stop to watch the sun sink over the river and then they head into the city. There people are in a great hurry. There are people shopping for gifts for their children, others heading home to feed their cats, and even an alien speaking its own language. As darkness falls, the lights in the city start to turn on. First just a few, then more, and finally the boy and grandfather are downtown near the large shop windows and it is revealed that this is a holiday book with different windows celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa.
It took until that final reveal to realize that I was reading a holiday book, and that is a wonderful thing. Instead of centering on the holidays, this book is about quiet moments and time spent together just looking at the changing light in the sky and in the city. The text is so simple, then becomes dancing complexity when the people start to talk, then returns to the simplicity again. Readers will be jolted by the change, just as if their own quiet walk at dusk was interrupted.
Shulevitz’s art is so beautiful. He captures the setting sun with colors that will make readers linger alongside the characters in the book. He plays throughout the book with shadows, light and darkness. As the lights come on in the book, the light is warm against the winter darkness and pools in liquid on the ground. In the reveal of the holiday windows, the illustrations become detailed and honeyed. Again, a place to linger and bask in that holiday mood.
A top holiday pick, this book is a lovely companion to Snow and stands on its own too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper
When it’s time for Max to head home from his Granpa’s house, Max is very sad. But his grandfather reassures him by saying “That ol’ moon will always shine for you…on and on!” All the way home in the car, Max watches the moon as it travels along with them. When they get home though, the moon has disappeared and Max once again feels sad and misses his grandfather. As Max is alone in his bed that night, he looks out at the dark night with no moon. As he watches, the moon returns from behind the clouds and Max once again feels connected to his Granpa.
Cooper takes a very simple story of grandfather and grandson and makes it memorable with his amazing illustrations. The story resonates with the connection of the two main characters and their love for one another. The symbol of the moon and its light connecting them makes the book luminous and almost magical. I appreciate a children’s picture book that is not just about an African-American child and family, but one that shows a loving male figure.
A large part of that magic are the illustrations that glow with the white-gold light of the moon. Cooper plays with light and dark throughout the book. Even on the pages without the moon shining, there are sources of light and shadow that are expressive and lovely.
A strong African-American family is celebrated in this picture book that would add another level to any moon-centered storytime. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.
Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long
Chiro is a very young bat whose mother tells him that it is time for him to head out on a solo flight for the first time. Chiro is very worried about how he will see in the dark, but his mother encourages him to “Sing, and the world will answer.” So Chiro heads out on his own. At first, he tries to fly without singing, but it is too dark. Then when he sings, he suddenly sees in color. Chiro explores and sees all sorts of things through his song. When he gets to the pond and all of its insects, their songs sound like breakfast to him. His mother had warned him not to go too far unless his song was strong. But Chiro is confident and heads out across the pond to see even more of the world through his song.
Berk’s writing is lyrical and lovely. He captures subtleties and beauty in his words, offering insight about what Chiro is seeing through his echolocation. When Chiro uses his song for the first time, Berk writes about it like this: “Tall trees called out to him, chanted the length of their long branches and the girths of their rough trunks.” As you can see, he asks children to reach higher with their language, inviting them to explore like Chiro does.
Long’s illustrations are a study in dark patterns and then bursts of color. Chiro is an exceedingly cute little bat, flying against haunting branches of shadow. When he sings, children will see the world come to life too, strengthened even more by Berk’s language. This is a beautiful book, perfect for a summer pajama story time.
A dark delight of a bat’s life, this book is lush in both language and imagery. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts
When Mrs. Insomniac gets a new job, the family moves 12 time zones to their new home. They had been a regular day-light family, but in the new place they found it hard to stay awake in the day and fall asleep at night. They tried everything from warm milk to meditation, but nothing worked. Looking out of their dark windows, they discovered that there were many nocturnal animals out there. There were bats, bears, and owls. So the family decided to spend their awake time in the darkness. They had breakfast at dusk, grew moonlight cactuses as a garden, studied the stars and attended night school. They are a happy night-time family.
Wolf has created a gorgeous tribute to the wonders of the night here with a delight of a strange family as the lens. There are such lovely little moments like watching “the fishes nipping at the surface of the sea: when the family goes moonbathing. The family adventures out and finds the flower market open and the bakeries bustling. It makes one want to head out in the darkness and see what is happening in your community. There is also a memorable tribute to the dark side of nature and nocturnal animals that removes the scare and makes the entire nighttime welcoming.
The Brothers Hilts’ illustrations glow with the light of the moon and play darkness upon darkness. The entire book is shadowy, but somehow also cheery and dazzling. Darkness is celebrated in all of its black and blue beauty.
A treat of a picture book, this is a quirky winner that will have everyone staying up well past their bedtimes. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.