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.
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young
A ninja moved stealthily through the night in this picture book. The clock struck midnight and the ninja tossed a grapple hook up. He climbed up the sheer wall. He crept down the hallway of the house where everyone was asleep. He hid in the shadows. Then he got out his tools and went to work. Until his mother woke up!
DaCosta’s simple text slowly builds the tension as the ninja moves through the night. The entire book is hushed and the mood brittle with stealth. She playfully leads the reader through thinking that this is a real ninja sneaking into a house until the reveal. It’s a great reveal that works particularly well thanks to Young’s illustrations.
His collage art shows a shadowed ninja figure using expert skill and stealth. At the same time, that cover clues us into the jolly nature of this book. Young’s art is as beautiful as always, using subtle colors to evoke the world of the ninja and the darkness of night. They have the sharp angles of Japanese architecture built into each page too, immediately conjuring another land.
Get ready to have your own little ninja prowling your house after you share this book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Lucy Can’t Sleep by Amy Schwartz
Lucy is in bed, but she just can’t fall asleep. First, she tries counting sheep and other animals, but that doesn’t work. So she climbs out of bed, puts on a sweater, stretches and wiggles. Then she heads out of her room to try and find her doll and bear. There they are in a chair downstairs. Lucy then heads to the kitchen and rummages in the fridge for a snack. She finds chocolate pudding and strawberry shortcake. Everything is very quiet in her house. Outside there is a squeaky door, a porch swing, and a radio playing. Then Lucy’s dog appears and they head inside. But Lucy isn’t quite ready for bed yet.
There is something old-fashioned and infinitely gentle about this book. Lucy’s parents never awaken to find her out of bed, instead she putters around on her own with no fear of the dark, of the quiet or of being alone. There is a great feeling of safety in this book with nothing startling or alarming in the least. It is a welcome difference from many picture books.
Schwartz’s writing is done in stanzas with repetition and rhythm making it into a poem. This makes it a great book for toddlers. Her art is filled with small details of Lucy’s life and home. It is all about warmth, familiarity and the small touches that mark a family’s life.
Safe, sweet nighttime adventures will have young listeners enjoying Lucy and her escapades out of bed. It will also make a nice addition to bedtime stories and story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Sweet Dreams by Rose A. Lewis, illustrated by Jen Corace
This quiet bedtime book is the perfect antidote to a busy day. Starting with a mother carrying her daughter up the stairs, the mood is set for a sleepy bedtime. The book moves from that child to the moon and then a sleeping baby bear, a soaking wet tiny mouse, and birds in a nest. Butterflies sleep as moths take wing into the night. Crickets start to sing and other nocturnal animals appear. Then the sun returns and a quiet morning begins with animals starting to rise and eat. The book returns to the bedroom and the child now curled in bed, her walls opening to reveal the wonder of night beyond.
Lewis’ writing is poetry, she conveys the quiet mood beautifully without the book ever becoming dull. Instead it is filled with quiet wonder at the change that happens when darkness falls, the beauty that emerges. She captures moments that invite cuddling up cozily, creating a dreamy glowing world.
Corace’s illustrations help with this as well. Her art here is done with pen, ink and watercolor. She uses delicate lines and deep colors to create this nighttime world. They are filled with moonflowers, a gently smiling moon, and animals that are not anthropomorphized at all.
This book is a joy to read and will be a pleasure to share with your little sleepyhead. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.