Tag Archive: urban areas


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.

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.

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.

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.

outside in

Outside In by Sarah Ellis

Lynn has a busy life with two best friends, choir, and a mother who keeps messing things up.  Her mother can’t hold down a job and the man who has brought a lot of stability to their little family for a few years has just left because her mother cheated on him.  Luckily, he is allowing them to keep living in his condo for a few months.  When Lynn chokes on a butterscotch candy at the bus stop, an unknown person helps her.  All Lynn knows about the person is that they were wearing a plaid skirt.  Lynn sets out to find them, but it isn’t until she gives up that Blossom introduces herself.   As her choir sets off to the United States for a competition, Lynn discovers that her mother hasn’t sent in the paperwork for her passport so she can’t attend.  Her friends head out without her and Lynn starts to get closer to Blossom, a strange girl who talks about disguising herself as a “citizen” and lives off the grid.  Soon Lynn has been drawn into the incredible alternate life of Blossom and her family.  But some things they are doing may not actually be legal and in order to be part of their lives Lynn has to promise to never reveal that they exist.  Lynn’s life works as long as the two worlds remain completely separate, but how long can she lie to her friends and mother?

Ellis is a Canadian author and this book is clearly set in Canada.  Lynn’s own family life is portrayed realistically and with great empathy both for her and for her mother.  There is no great villain here, only humans who make mistakes.  The lives of the “Underlanders” are shown as a balanced mix of utopian and harsh.  The moral questions about what they are doing emerge very naturally as the plot moves forward.  Then at the same time, Lynn herself is struggling with the moral ambiguity of lying to her loved ones about what she is doing in order to keep the Underlanders safe.  Again, there are no right answers here, it is about the puzzles of good and bad, wrong and right.

Lynn is a fairly straightforward character caught in a world where her mother is eccentric and unreliable but her friends are her rocks.  Her new relationship with Blossom captures the fact that she has some of her mother in her as well, something that wants a simpler life and a more unique and meaningful one.  Ellis manages to show this without ever mentioning it, allowing her readers to deeply understand Lynn beyond what Lynn does herself.

A complex and short novel for teens, this book is richly written, filled with ethical choices, and made beautiful by a glimpse into another way of life.  Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

hula-hoopin queen

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop.  Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party.  Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes.  Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined.  So her mother sends her out to get more sugar.  On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest.  It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party.  Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party.  But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.

This clever picture book shows different elements of a community.  There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too.  Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.

The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops.  She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures.  Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.

Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

farmer will allen

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin

Will Allen is a farmer who can see the potential where others can’t.  When he sees a vacant lot, he sees a farm with enough to feed everyone.  When he was a boy, he grew up helping care for a large garden that kept their family fed.  But Allen did not want to spend his life weeding and digging in the dirt, so he decided to become a basketball player, and he did.  But then living in Milwaukee, he saw empty greenhouses standing vacant and realized that he could feed people who had never eaten a fresh vegetable.  First though, he had to clear the land and then figure out how to improve his soil so that something could grow there.  That was the first time that the neighborhood kids helped out, bringing compost items to feed the worms.  Slowly and steadily, a community garden emerged and Will Allen taught others to be farmers too.  His Milwaukee farm now gets 20,000 visitors a year so that others can learn to grow gardens where there had only been concrete. 

I had seen the documentary, Fresh that includes Will Allen as part of the film about new thinking about food.  So I was eager to see a picture book about this inspiring figure.  It did not disappoint.  Martin captures the natural progression of Allen’s life from child eating from the garden to farmer giving other children that same experience and spreading the word about what is possible in an urban setting.  Martin’s tone throughout has a sense of celebration of Allen and his accomplishments.  She captures his own inherent enthusiasm on the page.

Larkin’s illustrations are striking.  Each could be a poster for farming and urban gardens on their own.  Combined into a book, they become a celebration of this large man with an even larger dream.  The colors are bright, the textures interesting and the image backgrounds evoke farming and nature.

This picture book biography is a visual feast that invites everyone to its community table.  Librarians and teachers in Wisconsin should be particularly interested in adding this to their collection, but it will hold interest in urban and farming areas across the country.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Readers to Eaters.

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