Here in the Garden by Briony Stewart
Released March 1, 2015.
This import from Australia tells the seasonal story of a boy and his garden. A boy spends time in his backyard, but is missing someone. The wind blows, he plants seedlings in the garden, and dreams of his special someone joining his side. When the rain comes, he watches from the back steps, still missing the one who would love to see the garden turn so green. Summer comes with its sunshine and heat and the boy continues to feel his loss but begins to realize that he can still be in touch with the one he misses by being out in nature and enjoying the same things they used to do together.
Stewart beautifully allows the book to speak to anyone who has experienced loss. In the end though, this book is clearly about the loss of a pet rabbit, the same one who is pictured at the boy’s side throughout the story. That reveal is done tenderly and gently, clearly tying the boy to nature and to his memories of all the times they had together. It’s beautifully and caringly presented.
Stewart’s art is washed in watercolors, colors that sweep and blow across the page, evoking the movement of air and the freshness of outdoors. Though the book is filled with loneliness, the art remains resolutely lovely and cheery. Even the one in the dark of night is filled with a light that illuminates.
A quiet story of grief, loss and the healing power of nature, this is a lovely little foreign title. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Kane Miller.
Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school. They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to. This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day. Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked. She outwits pirates who want to steal from her. She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story. In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor.
This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts. First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here. Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand.
Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text. The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size. The illustrations are done in black, white and red. They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.
A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Okay, Andy! by Maxwell Eaton III
The author of the Max and Pinky books returns with a new duo, Andy and Preston. Andy is an alligator and Preston is a young coyote. The two of them make an unlikely team but one that works incredibly well for humor. Preston often can’t figure out what is really going on. So when Andy is hunting a rabbit, Preston thinks it is a game of tag. In the next chapter, Preston wants to take every thing they find, though Andy holds onto a stick for himself. Andy is so distracted that he doesn’t see the cliff coming and then he lets loose his anger on Preston. Then it is up to Andy to make things right, if he can. In the final chapter, Andy is trying to sleep when Preston wants to have him guess what kind of animal noise Preston is making. This quickly descends into a merry chaos and then the book comes full circle back to the rabbit in a very satisfying ending.
This is a graphic novel perfect for beginning readers. Eaton tells the story in just a few words, letting the illustrations carry most of the story rather than the words. He uses repeating words too, making it even funnier and also making it easier for the youngest readers to decipher. Filled with silly action, the book does speak to the ins and outs of friendship. Eaton’s art is clear and clean, his thick black lines filled with simple colors. The result is a graphic novel that is simple, easy and cheerful.
A great pick for beginning readers, children will enjoy the graphic novel format and the humor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Blue Apple Books.
Peek-a-Boo Bunny by Holly Surplice
Bunny and his friends are playing their favorite game, Hide-and-Seek! Bunny gets to seek first and all of his friends hide. He counts to ten. Then he bounces and rushes around, moving way too fast to notice the others hiding. As Bunny races from one page to the next, another friend is revealed in their hiding place on each page, making it a real game of hide-and-seek for the reader. Eventually, Bunny does slow down, but he still can’t find the hidden animals. Bunny sits down under a tree, saddened by not finding any of his friends. But don’t worry, they can find him!
A jolly picture book where the game is made real for the reader, Surplice infuses her book with humor but also with a gentleness toward Bunny too. The story itself is simple and linear, offering space for the illustrations to carry the full story for the reader.
The illustrations are lovely. They offer collages of cut paper grasses and flowers in a rainbow of colors that pop against the pastel backgrounds. Bunny and his friends all pop out as well with their firm lines dark against the flowing colors of the forest.
A sparkling spring pick, this book is great for preschoolers and toddlers. I could see it making a great board book too. Appropriate for ages 1-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Gran Gran has given Alex a very saccharine sweet birthday book filled with bunnies as a gift. But Alex is clearly not a fan of the original book since he takes his pencil and makes lots of changes so that it’s a book that he wants to read. Birthday Bunny is turned into Battle Bunny, complete with helmet, utility belt and walkie talkie. His goal is to unleash his evil plan on the forest and the world that only a boy named Alex can prevent. Expect danger, cut-down trees, epic battles and much more as Alex tries to defeat the evil that is Battle Bunny!
Told and drawn in layers, this book is something very special. First you have the rather sickly sweet story underneath that celebrates Birthday Bunny’s birthday with lots of dancing and balloons. It’s silly, friendly and pure sugar. Over the top of that comes the brilliance of the writing of Scieszka and Barnett who manage by changing a few words in every sentence to make an entirely different story. Most sentences just have a few words changed, but others towards the end are more edited to really let the story flow. It works so well that one can forget the words underneath until you eye snags on one and you just have to read a bit of the silly story that has been edited.
Myers’ art is equally successful. He takes a dance scene and deftly turns it into an epic battle but one where you can still see the dancing underneath. On some pages little comics are added in the white space so that more story can be told. The cutesy nature of the underlying story is captured in his illustrations and one can feel the glee with which he reworked them just as a little boy would.
These three gifted book creators truly channeled their inner children to create this book. It is funny, smart and immensely creative. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney
Wow. This companion book to Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winning The Lion & the Mouse is another outstanding book. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, the story has all sorts of animals gathered to watch the race, including badgers, lynx, mice, and vultures. All of them wear at least one piece of clothing, from hats to bandanas to pants. As the pages of the book turn, readers will get to see how each of the animals approaches the race, from the frenzy and then sloth of the hare to the steadiness of the tortoise. Readers will get a sense of the slowness also from the words on the page that every so tantalizingly make out phrases as the pages turn.
Told in few words, the book is all about the illustrations which are magnificent. Filled with tiny details to linger over, each illustration is beautifully composed and helps move the story forward. Pinkney stays true to the classic tale, not changing any of the storyline. He manages to take stories that can become overly wordy and with images alone tell their story and make them appropriate and thrilling for a young audience. I will always see his illustrations when I hear this story. That is talent!
Quite simply, this is another masterpiece by Pinkney. A must-have book for every library serving preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh
Released May 7, 2013.
Papa Rabbit had traveled north to find work when the rains didn’t come one year. Finally, after two years, he was returning home to his family. A party was planned with food and music, but Papa Rabbit didn’t come back. When the other rabbits went to sleep, Pancho Rabbit set out to find his father. He took with him his father’s favorite meal of mole, rice and beans, tortillas, and a jug of aguamiel. As he traveled, Pancho met a coyote, who offered to help him reach his father. The coyote demanded payment of the mole up front, then taking Pancho to the train tracks where they jumped a train. As the journey continued, the coyote demanded food after each part of the journey until Pancho was out of food. Then Pancho himself was the only food for the coyote to demand. This allegorical tale of migrant workers coming to the United States is a powerful look at the dangers they face and the love that drives them.
Tonatiuh writes with a strength here, each word seemingly chosen for its impact and power. The importance of this sort of story for young children cannot be ignored. This book carefully dresses the horrors of the story in folktales, but the purpose is still clear. Those folktale devices are particularly effective in a story such as this, allowing the reader to see the dangers but not be overwhelmed by them. The use of the different pieces of food as payment is particularly clever as is the character of the coyote being that animal.
The illustrations convey the folktale structure as well. Done in a flattened style, they have strong lines and shapes. Tonatiuh makes clever use of textures like jean material, tires, fur and textured paper. This added touch ensures that readers recognize the modern nature of the tale.
This book belongs in every library since it deals with a current issue that affects many in our communities directly. Teachers will find this book especially useful when discussion immigration as well. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
Ten Things I Love about You by Daniel Kirk
Rabbit and Pig are great friends. So Rabbit decides to make a list of ten things that he loves about Pig. Rabbit comes up with the first one all on his own: Number 1 – I love Pig because he is very pink. Then he turns to Pig for help, but Pig is busy doing something else. Rabbit figures out Number 2, I love Pig because he knows how to keep busy. As time goes by, Rabbit continues to fill his list as Pig reacts to Rabbit’s visits and questions. But Pig is getting more and more frustrated with the interruptions. Finally, Rabbit’s list is complete and Pig has a surprise in turn for Rabbit.
Told entirely in dialogue, this is a picture book that begs to be read aloud. Because of the way it’s written, the humor is highlighted clearly for young readers. The pacing too is impacted by the format with a dashing briskness that is very refreshing. Kirk’s illustrations are very modern. They were made by scanning ink drawings and painted plywood panels into the computer and then texture and color were added with Photoshop. They have a wonderful rustic edge to both the images themselves and also the edges of the plywood. It adds an organic warmth to the story.
Add this one to your friendship story times, Rabbit and Pig are sure to get along well with Frog and Toad as well as Elephant and Piggie. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright
This icy read is just right for a very cold winter day, like we have been having here in Wisconsin. One little bunny thinks that she is a champion ice-skater. As a champion, she has to wait for conditions to be just right, even if it means waiting through spring, summer and fall! When the waiting is finally over, she has to eat a big breakfast to prepare. Clothing selection is also important, enough layers to be warm, but not too many. Finally, it is time to skate her adoring fans. She demonstrates her high level of skill, well, almost. The day ends with hot chocolate, a warm bath and a cozy bed. The perfect ending for a champion day.
Wright has created a cheery book about not only ice skating but the wonder of big dreams. It is a delight to find a picture book with a young girl exhibiting such strong self-esteem with no hesitation. Wright nicely weaves in the truth behind the little girl’s dreams. This happens particularly when the actual skating begins and readers discover that she’s not really a champion ice skater.
In her illustrations, Wright creates a cozy world. There is the rabbit’s home inside a large tree that is filled with deep colors that evoke a warmth. This contrasts nicely with the blues of the outdoors and the white of the snow. The entire book exudes a cluttered friendliness and family-centered cheer.
Sparkling with ice and plenty of bravado, this picture book will inspire children to dream big themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.