Baby Day by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9781481470346)
Today is baby’s birthday! So it’s time to have a party and a bunch of other babies are invited to the fun. The party is outside and as the babies arrive, so does a friendly dog that belongs to one of the families. There are cautious babies, friendly ones. Babies who worry for others and babies who are brave enough to use the big slide. There are fussy babies, crying babies, and eventually tired babies. Along with the babies, there are ice cream cones and plenty of cake before it’s time to head home.
Godwin and Bell show exactly what happens when you get a group of toddlers together. Often they merrily play alongside one another, other times they get upset. The book focuses solely on the party, follows the progression of emotions through, and ends merrily as people head home. It is simply written and a simple story that will work well for sharing with little ones heading to their first birthday party without setting huge expectations. Blackwood’s illustrations really lift this book to a new level. Her gentle and clever depictions of this group of children is done with attention to detail. One can follow each child through the party and their individual story makes sense.
A winning first birthday book just right for the smallest of children. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn (9781681197432)
Cat and Chicken live in San Francisco with their mother who works several jobs, but one is to be a children’s book author with books that feature Cat and Chicken as a caterpillar and chicken. When they head across the country for a summer job, their plans suddenly fall through. Now Cat and Chicken must stay with grandparents they have never met before while their mother works in Atlanta. Their grandparents live on Gingerbread Island, a place their mother hasn’t returned to since before Cat was born. Lily, their grandmother, is warm and maternal, quickly adapting to Chicken’s special needs. Macon, their grandfather, is more distant and gruff, working in his workshop and going on long walks alone. As Cat and Chicken get to know them, they find a wonderful pair of grandparents who love them immensely, so Cat tries to figure out how to bring her family back together again. She hopes that entering a fishing contest, a sport her mother used to love, with give them an opportunity to bond. But things don’t quite work out as planned, just like in her mother’s books.
McDunn has written the ideal summer read. It has a lightness to it that is pure summer sunshine, one that invites reading with sand between your toes or a flashlight in a tent. At the same time, the characters and story wrestle with larger issues of what family means, how a family can form a rift, and how the pressure of having a little brother who is neurodiverse can be challenging for an older sibling. I deeply appreciated Chicken as a character. He is not labeled in any way in the story but shown as having specific challenges that make looking after him different from other children.
Cat herself is a very strong young woman who holds her family together. Her grandmother recognizes that and helps Cat understand better what she is doing. As her grandparents step in to allow Cat to have a summer as a child, she fights them, trying to retain her role as Chicken’s caretaker. That process of letting go is beautifully shown, given time and patience. Throughout the book, nothing is simple, not even Cat’s enemy on the island, whose own story provides reasons for his actions.
Richly drawn and yet still summer light, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
When You’re Scared by Andree Poulin, illustrated by Veronique Joffre (9781771473651)
A little boy is scared to jump down into the water from a branch, even with his mother waiting below to catch him. A little bear cub feels the same way as he considers jumping from a branch into a dumpster. The mother and son each lunch together after swimming. The cub has lunch too, in the dumpster. When the boy goes to throw away their bag of garbage, he meets the mother bear standing outside the dumpster. The boy is scared of the bear, the cub is scared that he can’t get out. Mother and son decide to help the bears and bring a big log so that the cub can climb out, they are all very scared. Their plan works and the day ends with darkness and no one scared at all.
This Canadian picture book addresses the different aspects of fear. It uses the perspectives of both a human child and a bear cub to show that fear is universal. It also demonstrates that fear can be overcome and that doing so can make a positive difference in the world. The book uses words sparingly to tie the two perspectives together, allowing the story to really be told in the illustrations.
The illustrations are done in collage. They are bright and bold, showing the forest setting of the camping site and the dumpster. In certain images, the emotion of fear is shown as obliterating the sunny day entirely. It’s a very effective use of illustrations to convey emotion.
A book about fear that also encourages moving beyond fear to action. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.
8 Books about Passover for Children and Babies
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Awâsis And The World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt, illustrated by Amanda Strong (9781553797791)
When Awâsis accidentally loses her grandmother’s world-famous bannock as she is taking them to a relative, she starts to cry. When a duck hears her crying, the duck offers to help and gives her some tohtosapopimehkan or butter. A rabbit in the woods offers her some flour or askipahkwesikan. As Awâsis walks on, more animals offer her ingredients to make the bannock again. Readers will see a bear lingering nearby and wonder about what he is up to. When Awâsis returns home to her grandmother, she is still missing one key ingredient for the perfect bannock. Who will provide it?
Hunt skillfully integrates Cree words into his tale about a Cree girl, her grandmother and the animals who help her. In the author’s note, he also mentions that the story celebrates traditional indigenous storytelling methods and readers will notice the strong structure of the story and the way it reads aloud beautifully. A pronunciation guide and glossary of Cree words is provided as well as the recipe for world-famous bannock. The illustrations have a lovely softness to them that invites readers into a forest filled with helpful animals.
A marvelous picture book celebrating the Cree language, storytelling and food. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Highwater Press.
My Forest Is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron (9781771389303)
A boy looks out from his apartment into an urban forest nearby. He considers it his forest, but his forest is also all of the art in his room that depicts what he sees outside. As he walks in his forest outside, he sees tall trees, short insects, fluffy seeds, prickly thistles, rough bark, and much more. There are heavy and light things, wide and narrow tree trunks. As he explores the forest in person, he also makes art pieces back at home that represent what he has seen. He incorporates found items like rocks and sticks. He paints and creates paper collages. He sketches in his book while seated in his forest. Every day his forest is different and he finds new sources of inspiration there.
This Lebeuf’s debut picture book. His writing is simple and celebratory. He encourages children to get out into their own forests and explore. While this forest may be large, all of the things that the boy encounters can be found in smaller urban forests too. It’s all about taking the time to slow down and notice the details. The added encouragement to make art from what you see is highly appreciated. The boy uses all sorts of media to explore the forest back at home. This book could be used as inspiration for an art class very nicely or in a story time unit to encourage making art from bits of nature.
The art by Barron is very effective. She uses clean lines and layered paper collage to create a forest that is varied and worth exploring. Her illustrations fill the page with deep colors of nature and offer an inviting look at the world around us. Her inclusion of an Asian-American family in the book is also appreciated.
A call to head outside and make art, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
B Is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank (9781536201666)
Told in a series of “B” words, this book tells the story of a baby who climbs into a basket of bananas. Unnoticed by her busy brother who has headphones on, the basket is loaded onto the back of his bicycle and he heads off across the African landscape. They pass baobab trees, see a baboon, bird and butterfly. The road is bumpy and carries them across a bridge until they reach Baba’s bungalow where Baby is discovered amid the bananas much to her brother’s surprise. The three enjoy a snack together and then the two children journey back together to their mother.
Once again, Atinuke shows the beauty of Africa through a small child’s eyes. With only the simplest of words, she delights in the naughtiness of the baby climbing into the basket and then gives a merry journey for her to experience. Ending with a cookie, what could be sweeter! The illustrations are bright and large, perfect for sharing aloud with a group of toddlers. Filled with animals, people and sweeping landscapes, the illustrations capture the beauty of Africa and its people.
Another big beautiful book by Atinuke, this one is just right for the littlest ones. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd (9780525428459)
Lyndie is definitely not a good Southern girl, much to her grandmother’s despair. She tends to find trouble easily and not make friends quickly. When her father loses his job, they move in with his parents. Lady, Lyndie’s grandmother, has specific ideas of how Lyndie should act and even creates a strict schedule for her that gives her no free time. But somehow on Lyndie’s first day of school, she finds an injured fawn on the way to school and ends up not making it to school that day. Lyndie’s best friend is a do-gooder whose family takes in a boy from a local juvenile detention facility. As Lyndie gets to know him, they become friends and share secrets with one another. When Lyndie chooses to put family before friends, she could lose everyone.
The voice in this novel is unique and confident. Set in 1985, the characters are grappling with the impact of the Vietnam War on the men in their community. The book looks at the results of the war and how one suicide can ripple through several families. Shepherd does not make this simple or easy, she allows it to stand in all of its complexity and gives us a young history buff to explore it with.
Shepherd creates an entire world in her writing, one that invites readers in to deeply feel for and cheer for Lyndie even as she makes plenty of mistakes and missteps. Lyndie is a champion though, and readers will completely understand her motivations as she chooses one direction or another. Happily, Lyndie is her own person, filling her days with the history of the region, exploring news on microfilm, and finding ways to live in a new home with rigid expectations.
An exceptional debut novel that invites readers to care just as deeply as Lyndie does. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Kathy Dawson Books.
Sweety by Andrea Zuill (9780525580003)
Sweety is a naked mole rat, though fortunately for the pictures in the book mole rats like to wear clothes. But Sweety is not like the other naked mole rats. She loves to spend her time identifying fungi and does her school book reports in interpretive dance. She doesn’t have any friends because as her grandmother tells her, she’s a “square peg” and she doesn’t fit in. Happily, Sweety has her Aunt Ruth, who also didn’t fit in as a child. Ruth encourages Sweety to just be herself and that eventually she will find other like her who are different too. Sweety wonders how to find others without being too desperate, and in the end, she manages to do exactly the right thing.
Zuill has created a picture book that is entirely heart warming and charming. Sweety is a marvelous character, someone who is not only different in her interests but also looks different than the others around her. The large headgear that she wears adds to that as well as her bald head. My favorite part of the book is the wry look at popularity and the literal single hair that separates beauty from being different. These moments appear throughout the book and encourage readers to see Sweety as an individual.
A great picture book with one big personality. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.