Tag: urban areas

I Am a Bear by Jean-Francois Dumont

I Am a Bear by Jean Francois Dumont

I Am a Bear by Jean-Francois Dumont (InfoSoup)

Told in the first person, this is a story of a bear who finds himself living on the streets of a city. He has a stack of cardboard boxes that make up his home. He isn’t welcome in any of the stores, and finds it safer to scrounge for food after dark. That means that he sleeps most of the day. He had tried to talk with people, but he scared them since he’s such a big bear. He gave up after awhile, paying no attention to those walking past him anymore. Until one day, a little girl notices him and talks directly to him. She returns the next day too and the bear has made an effort to clean up himself and his home. She calls him a teddy bear and visits again and again. Suddenly the bear has something to look forward to each day, and there is hope.

Dumont is the author of The Chickens Build a Wall and the series of silly books that follow it. This book though is a departure from that frenetic cheery tone. Here there is darkness, hunger and need. Here there is a bear who clearly is not actually a bear, but treated as such by society. It does not matter if young readers realize that the bear is a symbol. The story works much the same with a real bear or a real person. The life is hard, the city stark, and hope nonexistent, at first.

The art here is lush and lovely. It shows life on the street both from the bear’s point of view and also from that of an observer like the little girl. The buildings lean and tower above, the traffic is dangerous and close, and the alley is like a canyon. With sharp angles, the perils of life on the street are evident here as appropriate for a child.

A book that will help talk about homelessness and that offers a way forward, kindness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated  by Marjorie Priceman (InfoSoup)

On their first Christmas Eve after moving to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, things are just not going well. Their tree is tiny and now the holiday roast is too big to fit in their tiny oven! So Jose and his father head off to find an oven large enough for their big roast. As they leave their apartment building, they bump into neighbor after neighbor, each having a bad holiday too. The children are too noisy, an older couple won’t be seeing their family this year, and others are having money troubles. They head to the local pizzeria where the Ray lets them put the roast in his huge pizza oven. On the way back home with the meal, the smell of the roast tantalizes everyone they pass, making their day better. And best of all is the sharing of the roast and the sharing of the holiday with everyone.

Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street and has been creating marvelous books for children for the last few years. In this picture book, she captures the diversity of a Bronx neighborhood and the way that you can be neighbors but not know one another well. Then she turns it all around and shows how community can suddenly be created by acts of caring and generosity and how those choices can impact everyone around you.

Caldecott-honor winning, Priceman has brought the urban Bronx neighborhood to vivid life here. The buildings sway, bright colored against the dark night sky that is alive with stars and the milky way. The snow shines on the ground. All is filled with spicy colors that fill the holiday with a unique feeling of a diverse community.

A great pick for holiday reading, this picture book has the rhythm of different languages on the page, the joy of diverse holiday traditions and the beauty of a community coming together. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blesssings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (InfoSoup)

Oskar survived Kristallnacht in Nazi Europe and has been sent by his family to live with his aunt in New York City. When he arrives, he has to walk over 100 blocks down Broadway to reach her, hopefully before she lights the menorah at sunset. Along the way, Oskar is reminded again and again about looking for blessings in life. He is given bread by a woman feeding the birds, a comic book by the man who runs the newsstand, mittens by a boy in the park. But most of all in his long walk in the cold, he is given hope once again that he is somewhere safe.

The authors have created a picture book that speaks to the horrors of the Holocaust only in passing. Instead it is much more focused upon feeling embraced by a city even as a newly-arrived immigrant. It is about the small things that we do in kindness each day and the way that those small things build to something larger and more important for someone. This book celebrates New York City and the shelter and home that can be found there.

The illustrations are interesting for a book set in the past. They incorporate comic-like panels on the page that really work well. The illustrations have a sense of wonder about them. They capture small pieces of New York, allowing the snow and city to swirl around the reader just as they do around Oskar himself.

A lovely holiday book that is about more than either Christmas or Hanukkah but about home and hope. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

sidewalk flowers

Sidewalk Flowers by JoArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith

As she heads home with her father who is distracted by his cell phone call, a little girl dressed in vibrant red picks wild flowers. Along the way, she takes a moment to smell each of them, creating a bouquet of bright colored blooms. The flowers grow unnoticed by the others on the street in this urban setting, but the little girl spots them all growing out of sidewalk cracks. When the girl and her father reach the park, she notices a dead bird on the sidewalk and leaves some of the flowers there with the bird. A man sleeping on a park bench is given a sprig too. Then she decorates the collar of a friendly dog with more flowers. As they reach home, the little girl gives each of her family members flowers, leaving a trail of them on their hair and heads. The final flower is used to decorate her own hair at the very end.

This wordless picture book is immensely lovely. The story arc really works well and has moments of sophistication that create a vibrant urban world for this girl to live within. As she gathers the flowers, other beautiful parts of the city that would have been overlooked too light up with color or are captured in small moments. From the display of bright fruits in the market to the pigeons on the street, each small piece adds together so that readers “see” the beauty of the city along with the young protagonist.

The art is expressive and lovely. The city is shown in black and white against which the red girl pops like a bright ruby. Portions of the city are done in color, like flowered dresses and the small flowers that the girl gathers too. Then when the girl starts sharing her flowers, the entire world becomes colorful and bright. It is a dynamic shift in the middle of the book, showing the power of generosity and community.

Subtle and powerful, this picture book celebrates seeing the beauty in everyday life and sharing it with others. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman

little baby buttercup

Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman, illustrated by You Byun

The life of a toddler is explored in this loving picture book that celebrates all of the small moments that make up a busy toddler day. Written in bouncy rhyme, the book matches the endless energy of a small child. From waking up to hugs and moving on through the day to bedtime, the day is filled with activity.  Some is as simple as eating and wearing some of the food. Others are visits to the park and meeting friends there. There is even a skinned knee on the playground and some rain to add a little drama, but all is patched up quickly and the rain is delightful when viewed from a coffee shop with a treat.

Moving from one activity to the next, the book bounces along filled with small moments that add up to one full day for a little one. Children will see their own activities in this urban setting, which is nicely multicultural. There is plenty of green space rather than concrete too, thanks to parks and the neighborhoods are depicted as friendly and welcoming to little children. Ashman shows the delight of new discoveries alongside the activities of a regular day and ends up with a rich wealth of time spent with loved ones.

Byun’s illustrations are lovely. With a bright color palette, the paint and ink illustrations are filled with sunlight and show the strong connection between mother and child. The illustrations are busy with details which will delight children, particularly when they head out into the neighborhood. Shining with friendliness, these illustrations are rich and warm.

Toddlers will see their own busy days on the page here with plenty to point at and name and talk about. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

last stop on market street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.

De la Pena is best known for his young adult books.  This is the second picture book he has written.  One would never know that this is not his specialty.  His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.

Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage.  They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.

A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

bear ate your sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Released January 6, 2015.

This picture book tells the story of exactly what happened to your sandwich.  See, it started with the bear.  He was having a great warm, bright morning when he smelled berries.  He found a pickup truck filled with berries, which he munched and then fell fast asleep in the back of the truck.  When he woke up, he was riding towards a huge city.  Now he was in a new forest, but a very different one.  He climbed, he scratched, he squished his toes in mud, he investigated.  He found a park and that is where he discovered your sandwich sitting on a park bench.  He then ran off, scared by the dogs around, climbed aboard a boat and returned to his own forest.  It’s all true you see, I saw it all.  Don’t you trust me?

The merriment in this picture book is pure joy to share.  And the voice that it is written in is so very earnest and honest, willing you with their very words to really believe them.  It’s so earnest that you immediately know that this is a voice not to be trusted.  But you won’t completely understand who is talking until the very end of the story.   The timing of the humor is impeccable, the writing is wonderfully strong and lovely, evoking a forest in an urban setting and letting the bear discover it. 

The illustrations have a richness to them.  The opening scenes of the bear in the forest play with light and shadows, greens and browns, dappling and shining.  It’s all lush and green and beautiful with the black bear anchoring the beauty around him.  Along the way there are other moments, particularly the ones where the bear investigates the city and then the lingering moments of him discovering the sandwich, approaching the sandwich, longing for it.  It’s all strikingly rendered.

Lush, strong and very funny, this picture book is a delight and just as satisfying as a sandwich for a hungry bear.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.