The Everlasting Embrace by Gabrielle Emanuel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
A toddler spends her day in Mali strapped to her mother’s back. Told from her point of view, this picture book celebrates the strong bond that occurs between mother and child as they spend their entire day together. The little one is bound to her back and they move as one. She is there as her mother beats millet with a pestle. There when her mother carries it back home in a basket balanced on her head. During the day, her mother tickles her, reaching behind to touch her little girl. They dance together, the rhythms of their day lulling the baby to sleep at times. They shelter together in the shade the big basket of mangoes makes when her mother carries it. When they return home, the little girl carries her teddy bear bound to her back. These days together are precious as the little girl will soon be too big to carry all day. But the bond they have formed together will never go away.
Emanuel lived in Mali for a year after graduating from college. While she was there, she shared stories aloud with a little girl, but found that there were no picture books that she could read her about her own country and lifestyle. So Emanuel created this one. It is a very strong debut picture book with writing that is confident and a point of view that is unique. Told from the view of the little girl on her mother’s back, one never worries that she is being neglected or ignored as the mother goes through her day. Rather one quickly realizes that she is content, cared for and completely part of her mother’s daily life.
Lewis is an extraordinary illustrator. He captures life in Mali clearly on the page, showing the mother and daughter together at home, walking through the markets, doing chores and spending time together even when the mother is busy doing other things. There is a joy in his images, a dedication to truly capture this country and its way of life on the page.
Strong, beautiful and unique, this picture book takes children on a journey to Mali where they will see life lived differently and warmly. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Loula and the Sister Recipe by Anne Villeneuve
The inventive Loula returns for her second outing in this picture book. Here she is sick and tired of her three brothers who refuse to play with her. So Loula decides that what she needs is a little sister, one who is just like her. So she goes to her parents and requests that they get her one. Her father explains that making a sister is a lot like baking a cake and needs special ingredients like a papa and a mama, butterflies in the stomach, a full moon, a candlelight supper, kisses and hugs, and chocolate. So Loula sets off to shop for those things with her ever-helpful chauffeur Gilbert. In the end, it all comes together in one amazing evening filled with candlelight, moonlight, and a sister surprise.
This second picture book about Loula again shows her determination and ability to look at a problem positively as something to solve. Infused with humor, young readers will know that her plan is probably not going to work out the way she thinks, yet few will expect the twist at the end when it comes. Having adored Gilbert the chauffeur in the first book, I was very pleased that this second book has much the same structure with Gilbert helping Loula gather everything she needs, including live butterflies.
The illustrations in this book have a loose flowing quality that has lots of motion and energy. Done in ink and watercolor, they vary from small illustrations with white backgrounds to two-page spreads filled with color. My favorite is the leaping Gilbert attempting to catch a butterfly in a net.
A strong young heroine with plenty of chutzpah combines with plenty of humor in this picture book series. Make sure to read both of the books because it’s even more time to spend with the amazing Loula! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Every morning a young boy plays a game with his father. His father knock knocks at the door and the boy pretends to be asleep until his dad is right next to him and they give each other a huge hug. But then one day, his father isn’t there to play the game any more. His father isn’t there to get him ready for school either. Morning pass with no father. The boy thinks that maybe his father is just there when the boy is at school, so he writes him a letter about how much he misses his dad and how much he expected to learn from him. The boy waits for months and nothing happens, then one day he gets a letter from his father. A letter that speaks to their separation but also one that encourages him to continue to live and knock on new doors.
Beaty’s text is deep hearted and searingly honest. As his author’s note says, he had an incarcerated father who had been his primary caregiver as a young child. So Beaty has revealed much in this picture book about the gaping hole left from a missing parent. Yet the genius of this book is that it will work for any child missing a parent for any reason. And I adore a book with such a strong connection between father and child. Beaty manages to convey that in a few pages, leaving the rest of the book to reveal the mourning and grief of loss but also a hope that shines on each page.
Collier’s illustrations shine as well. Done in a rich mix of paint and collage, they are filled with light as it plays across faces, dances against buildings, and reveals emotions. His illustrations are poetry, filled with elephants, showing the boy growing into a man, and the man turning into a father. They are illustrations that tell so much and are worth exploring again after finishing the book.
This book belongs in my top picks for 2013. It is beautifully done both in writing and illustrations. I’m hoping it is honored by the Coretta Scott King awards and I’d love to see a Caldecott as well. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Little Chick and Mommy Cat by Marta Zafrilla, illustrated by Nora Hilb
Little Chick has been raised by Mommy Cat since she was still in an egg. When Little Chick was very small, he thought that he was a cat too. He tried to be a cat, but it didn’t work. He couldn’t meow, or lick his paws or flick his tail. His mother explained to him that he was not a cat, but a chick and his real mother was a hen. When the two of them would go out, others would stare at them because they were different. His mother told him that it’s not bad to be different, what is bad is to want to be like everyone else. His mother also made sure to give him time to be with other chicks by taking him to the Bird School so he could learn everything he needed to about being a chicken. The other chicks asked him all sorts of questions because his mother was so different from the others. Little Chick though is happy to be part of his different but very loving family.
This picture book speaks directly to the issues of diversity and different types of families. It will also be happily embraced by families who have adopted children, because it manages to explain clearly and with no hesitation the basic love and acceptance of diversity in adoptive families. Small children will respond to the animal characters but easily also draw connections to themselves.
Zafrilla’s text is straight forward, tackling larger issues and bringing them to a level that small children will easily understand. She builds an unlikely family and happily shows the love and attachment between a cat and a chick. This is a book that is unlikely to be read as a straight animal story, because the connection to adoption is so clear. That said, the clarity and honesty here is what makes it shine.
Hilb’s illustrations add a colorful touch to the story. The colored pencil illustrations use delicate lines and soft colors to tell the story. The feathers and fur beg to be petted with their textures. Hilb maintains the size difference throughout the story, further emphasizing the differences between the cat and her chick.
This picture book focuses on diversity, love and the many forms it can come in. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Independent Publishers Group.
The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare by Sam McBratney
In this follow-up to the classic Guess How Much I Love You, McBratney gives us four new stories about the beautiful relationship between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In the first story, the two wake up to discover that the Hiding Tree has fallen over during the night. Big immediately climbs the fallen tree, but Little is much more cautious until he’s playing hide-and-seek. The second story has the two rabbits climbing Cloudy Mountain. Little has a lot of fun finding dandelions and blowing them. So when the clouds start coming and making it hard to see, he gets cross when Big insists that it’s time to go. The third story has a lot of danger that Little seems to find and Big is always watching to keep him safe. Soon though, Little’s own inner voice is showing him the right choice. The final story returns the rabbits back home as they discuss Little’s favorite place.
All of the stories carry that same loving warmth as the original book. There is the ever-present but not smothering parental character and the mischievous child character. McBratney has managed to incorporate situations that human parents will face into a cloudy mountain and a large field. Children will recognize their parents’ efforts to keep them safe, redirect them, and be forced to change plans sometimes and spoil the fun.
McBratney’s The art is a large part of the charm here, but so is his writing style. He keeps it simple but sunny, always giving a cheery outlook in both images and text. Perhaps my favorite image is when Little is caught thinking of going into a big hole. His odd leap away from the hole when caught captures exactly the body-language of a child in the same situation.
This is bound to be embraced by parents who loved the first book. They will find themselves happily right back in the same loving, warm place. Expect plenty of bedtime repeat reads. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Dad Is Big and Strong, But… by Coralie Saudo, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Released May 8, 2012.
Translated from the French, this picture book takes the traditional bedtime story and turns it upside down. Every night it’s the same thing, Dad does not want to go to bed. The boy tries to get his father to bed nicely by using logic, but his dad just gets wilder and wilder. The boy refuses to chase after him, instead offering a quiet story together. That always works, and the two of them sit together in a chair: the father on the boy’s small lap. Two stories later, and the boy finally has his father tucked into bed, but the process is not done yet. The boy can’t head to his own bed yet or his father will ask to sleep with him. And though his father may be big and strong, he’s also afraid of the dark.
This picture book has a wonderful charm about it that really works. While there are other books that turn the parent/child relationship around, this one does it with a gentleness and honest joyfulness that is simply lovely. A large part of this is the tone of the writing. The sentence structure also works well, showing the skill of the translation. The book plays with so many of the stereotypes of getting children to sleep that it is a delight to share with children.
Giacomo’s illustrations keep the size of the father and son as different as possible. As you can see from the cover, the boy is quite small. It is that size difference that adds so much humor to the illustrations, especially when the father is sitting on the boy’s lap for a story. Another wonderful whimsical touch is the way the father heads to bed in hat and tie, rather than pajamas.
Doing a pajama or bedtime story time? This book would work very well there. It is also a great pick for bedtime snuggles, though you might find yourself on your child’s lap just to try it out. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Tom the Tamer by Tjibbe Veldkamp, illustrated by Philip Hopman
Tom may be able to train snails to jump on a trampoline and squirrels to swing from trapezes in the trees, but he can’t convince his father to go outdoors. His dad is too frightened of all of the animals out there. So Tom sets out with a plan to bring the animals in to his father. He starts by heading to the local pet store and buying a polar bear. He trains the polar bear in the park and by that evening, the polar bear is pretending to be their new furry white chair in the house. Tom’s father loves the new chair and never notices that it is actually a polar bear. The next day, Tom heads out and gets even more animals from the pet store, training them all to act like different pieces of furniture. Soon the entire living room is filled with animals, and Tom’s father loves all of the new “furniture” too. But what will happen when he finds out that Tom got all of these new things at the pet store?
Veldkamp has created a broad comedy that stretches the imagination in a most wonderful way. It also takes the parent/child relationship and merrily turns it on its head. Tom is a very creative young man, seeing the world in his own unique way and definitely not in the way that his father does.
Hopman’s illustrations add to the fun, from the crowded shelves of the pet store to the graceful curve and smile of a polar bear chair. The illustrations have a certain wildness but also a friendly style that makes sure that everyone knows this is pure fun.
An exuberant book that is full of zany fun, this Dutch import would be a great addition to an animal story time. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat.