The Visitor by Antje Damm (9781776571888)
Elise never leaves her house. She is scared of everything, including spiders, trees and people. But she does like to open her windows to let in fresh air. One day, a paper airplane flies through the open window and into her house. She immediately scooped it into the fire, but she had nightmares about paper planes all night. The next day a boy knocked on Elise’s front door and asked about his plane. He also asked to use the bathroom. Elise let him in. As the boy came down the stairs, he asked about some pictures on the wall, looked at Elise’s collection of books, and asked to be read to. They played together too and had a snack. That night, Elise knew just what to do and made a new paper airplane.
Originally published in Germany, this picture book has a distinct European feel to it. Damm’s text is simple and concise, offering a straight explanation of what is going on. Along the way, the book reveals how limited Elise’s world has become and the courage it takes for her to open the door to a child. It is a book that captures loneliness and agorophobia in a clear way.
It is the illustrations that truly make this book special. Done in cut paper dioramas, the illustrations play with light and color. At first, Elise’s world is dark and gray. As the boy enters the house though, light and bright color come with him. He stays longer and soon the entire room is awash in splashes of bright colors. This more than anything shows the transformation taking place for Elise as she dares to make a new connection.
Great illustrations lift a book about empathy and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older (9781338268812)
Magdalys Roca lives at the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York during the year 1863. It is a different world than the one we know, with dinosaurs still roaming the earth. While on a field trip to see a theater performance, riots break out in New York City. Magdalys and her fellow orphans are caught in the situation. As she helps her fellow orphans survive, Magdalys discovers that she has a strange ability to communicate with the dinosaurs around her. Discovering that the orphanage has been destroyed in the riots, Magdalys and several other orphans are taken in by New York freedom fighters in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood where people of color have created a place of safety. Magdalys and her friends are soon involved in saving the other children from being taken into slavery.
Based loosely on real history, this novel has just enough historical reality to keep it grounded. Add in the dinosaurs and you have a wonderful novel of alternative history that will keep children enthralled. The pace is fast and becomes almost wild during fight and battle scenes. The children face real horrors of slavery, including a lynching, mobs of people intent of capturing or killing them, and a network of men working to send free people into bondage. The setting of a historical New York City is deftly woven into the story line as well.
It’s not often that you have children’s fantasy books that offer alternative takes on history. It is even more rare that those books have children of color as the main characters in the novel. Magdalys is a great heroine, full of bravery and a sense of purpose as she joins those trying to change the world. She is a natural leader though she views herself as a loner, something that others won’t allow her to be.
A rip-roaring read that will have children longing for a dactyl to ride. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.
Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (9780763694685)
That must be a horse wearing a tall hat, right? It couldn’t be a unicorn in disguise. Perhaps it’s all in how you choose to see things. Maybe the horse is having a bad hair day? It could just like the color red. Yet even when the hat is removed, there’s still a question of whether you the reader believe in unicorns or not. So, do you?
This very simple book has text with a modern vibe that keeps the book firmly rooted in today rather than a mythical world. So the questions become whether young readers believe in unicorns right now, or not. The illustrations are a huge part of the book, particularly when the hat comes off. The horn question remains unanswered thanks to clever formations and shapes behind the animal’s head.
Funny and nicely designed for both horse and unicorn lovers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Here are the links I shared on Twitter this week:
11 Genuinely Terrifying Moments From Children’s Books
30 Children’s Books About Diversity That Celebrate Our Differences
Gran’s hilarious video has led to Wonky Donkey children’s book selling out
Is This an Exceptional Moment for Picture Books? | ShelfTalker
Must Have Books for Girl Leaders – https://t.co/6DyKWZKC9l
Survey: 50 percent of parents don’t read to their child every day
Three picture books that portray the lives of artists in glorious, living color:
“When I was a kid, as someone who refused to read until I was eighteen years old, it was poetry that saved my life – because it was less daunting, there were less words on the page, the white space felt a little less intimidating.”
The Pack Horse Librarians Of Eastern Kentucky – NPR
“I wanted to write about kids not dealing with violence or trauma, just falling in love, but still making some sort of political statement”: on ‘Pride,’ a Jane Austen-inspired YA romance set in contemporary Brooklyn
Rainbow Rowell unveils cover for first graphic novel, ‘Pumpkinheads,’ illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks – https://t.co/0dnj7Zx8z8
Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9780763688424)
This is the sequel to the Caldecott Honor winner that returns us to the silliness of the first. The little red chicken has homework to do. At school, he learned all about the “elephant of surprise” and how it appears in every story. Papa tries to correct his little chicken, but as they share stories the element of surprise is at play. Who knew that even Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid have a shocking surprise for Papa too? Spend some more time with these two chickens in a book that celebrates surprises and shared stories.
Stein’s second story about this little chicken family has the same warmth as the first. There is a wonderful coziness about Papa and the little chicken and the home they share. At the same time, it has a dazzling sense of humor that children will adore with truly laugh-out-loud moments of surprise and elephants.
The art continues the feel of the first book in the series with a home filled with small touches and rich colors. The stories the two share are drawn in ink and have an old-fashioned feel to them. But then the blue elephant of surprise will break through and bring color into those books.
Full of surprises and joy, this picture book is a worthy follow up to the first. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Imagine by Raul Colon (9781481462730)
This wordless picture book invites readers to be inspired by fine art in a playful yet profound way. A boy skateboards over to the Museum of Modern Art. He views several paintings that make him stop and look. Soon the paintings have come to life with the boy entering the scene and the characters in the paintings entering the real world. Together they all traverse New York City and have several seminal experiences together. They climb the Statue of Liberty, ride the Cyclone, take the subway, and even stop for a hotdog. After a visit to Central Park, they return to the museum. On his way home, the boy is inspired to create a mural on a blank wall near his home, inspired by the three paintings.
Don’t miss Colon’s Author’s Note at the end of the book where he speaks to the power of fine art to inspire young artists. Colon saw master artworks later in his life and was still inspired by them, yet he wonders what impact seeing them as a child would have had. Colon has created a picture book that is a tribute to the power of art and the ability for it to inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. It is also a tribute to New York City as they tour around the sights and enjoy a day on the town.
In a wordless picture book, the onus is on the art to carry the entire book. As always, Colon’s art is inspiring itself. His use of texture through lines and softening by using dots makes his work unique in the picture book world. His illustrations glow with light, whether they are interior images or out in Central Park.
An exceptional wordless picture book, this one is a must-have for libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Indies Introduce has selected the top ten adult and children’s titles debuting in winter/spring 2019. The titles were selected by a panel of American Booksellers Association members from across the U.S. Here are the children’s titles that include YA as well:
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn
The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
Izzy + Tristan by Shannon Dunlap
Kings, Queens and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Mostly the Honest Truth by Jody J. Little
Nikki on the Line by Barbara Roberts
Nocturna by Maya Motayne
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
White Rose by Kip Wilson
XL by Scott Brown
Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)
Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.
Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!
The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.
A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies (9780062671271)
Evan, a fox, and his dog did everything together from taking rides in the truck to sharing ice cream. What they loved to do most of all was work in Evan’s large garden together. Evan was known for growing large vegetables, competing for the largest pumpkin. But when his dog died, Evan saw his garden as a bitter place. One day, he went out and smashed it into emptiness. But things grow in empty spots, weeds and brambles rose up. They matched Evan’s mood, so he cared for them. Soon his garden was prickly and grim, just like him. When a pumpkin vine came into the garden, Evan cared for it too because it had prickles. Just as the pumpkin turned orange and huge, Evan realized it was time for the fair. Evan found himself enjoying the fair, meeting old friends and eating treats. And the grand prize was just right to set his life and his garden on a new course.
This book is so poignant. Lies captures grief and loss vividly on the page, the bitterness of loss, the emptiness it leaves, and prickliness of emotions left behind. Evan the fox though is a gardener through and through, so he cared for those prickly things, those weeds, and allowed them to flourish. It is a perfect allegory for the process of grief, moving from anger to despair to sadness and finally to acceptance and looking to the future. The arc is beautifully shown.
The illustrations are exceptional. Done with marvelous small details, even Evan’s grief garden is depicted with care from small signs warning of poison to the fences of the garden made of pitchforks. The use of light and dark is done so well, as Evan looks out from the darkness of his home into the light of the garden and gets violently angry.
One of the top picture books of the year, this is a dead dog picture book worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.