Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Move through the seasons with the colors built into verses dedicated to a color and the season. Delight in the fact that spring is more than just green as Sidman weaves all of the colors into spring some in quite surprising and insightful ways. The whimsical paintings of Zagarenski also offer a complexity and uniqueness to the title. This is much more than spring being green and filled with flowers. Here spring is red with cardinals, white with lightning, blue sky, yellow goldfinches, and pink with baby birds. Summer, autumn and winter follow each with all of the colors found and celebrated in different ways.
Sidman’s poetry will pull the reader into the book, offering lovely moments such as the yellow of summer:
everything it touches…
smells like butter,
tastes like salt.
Isn’t that summer captured in a color? And that is just one color in one season. The senses are involved in this color book, as is rhythm and a sense of the actual season itself. It is a picture book that allows you to think of the colors you associate with a season, the unexpected, the small touches. I can see this being used in an art class to inspire students to paint more than the usual colors for seasonal pieces as well as a very successful poetry picture book for use in general classes.
Appropriate for ages 5-8, this book will work best with time afterwards for discussion because it will have everyone buzzing with new ideas.
Urso Brunov and the White Emperor by Brian Jacques, illustrated by Alexi Natchev.
This second Urso Brunov book continues the adventures of the Little Father of All Bears. Urso Brunov is awoken by a call for help carried on the wind. It is two young polar bears, a Prince and Princess who are lost and unable to return home after being carried away on an iceberg. Urso Brunov is willing to help and uses his connections with other animals, all called by his bugle, to return the polar bears to their royal parents.
The joy here is the skill of the writing by Jacques. It has a folk tale quality and is written with such skill that it reads aloud with ease, flowing together into a seamless story that is equally effortless to listen to. Natchev’s illustrations capture the animals and snowy landscape well. They will project nicely to even a large group of listeners.
A great readaloud for slightly older audiences, this book is appropriate for 5-8 year olds.
Mousetraps by Pat Schmatz
Maxie is a person who looks at the world through her cartoon lens as she draws pictures of everything around her. Her family is large, boisterous and close and little has happened to challenge her security. Except that incident with Roddy her friend in grade school whom she abandoned when things got tough. Now Roddy, who calls himself Rick, has returned to the community, high school and Maxie’s life. Maxie is confronted on many fronts by how her own choices and her familial security have kept her blind to many complex situations right in front of her.
It is a joy to watch Maxie make realizations and change in believable and interesting ways without losing what makes her herself. Schmatz writes with an intriguing mixture of forthright plot-based writing and occasional glimpses of poetry and musing. Maxie is an intriguing character who is neither pretty nor ugly, girly or tomboyish, lonely or popular. She is what most teens are: somewhere in the middle but also very special and talented in her own way.
The book is also very timely in its subject matter. Readers will get to explore the issues of being gay, bullying and violence in a book that takes each of them seriously and offers hope and solutions. The homosexual characters in the book are far from stereotypical and offer a look at how modern families have adapted and grown to not just accept but embrace all family members. This is done very believably and lacks any heavy-handedness. The tone is perfection.
Appropriate for ages 14-16, this is a clever, interesting and often surprising novel.
A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student by Valerie Gladstone, photographs by Jose Ivey.
Enter the world of the prestigious Ailey School in New York City and view it through the eyes of Iman Bright, a thirteen-year-old student. As she goes through her lessons in ballet, jazz, modern and West African dance, readers will understand the dedication it takes to study dance at this level. At the same time, readers will see a normal thirteen year old who goes to school and plays the violin. The book strikes exactly the right balance.
Ivey’s photographs nicely capture the movement and poses of dance. He is equally successful capturing Iman when she is out of school with her friends and family. Gladstone’s text comes from Iman’s point of view and is simple and frank about what she is doing.
A strong nonfiction dance title, this book takes it beyond popular dance with sparkly costumes and to a more studious and serious level. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
The Snow Day by Komako Sakai
On a very snowy day, a little rabbit awakens to discover that the snow has cancelled school. His mother doesn’t want him to go out in the storm, but he sneaks onto the balcony to make a snow dumpling. His mother can’t go to the grocery store, so they play cards together. His father can’t return from his trip because of the storm. All around them it is only snow, no traffic, just them and the snow. When the little rabbit is getting ready for bed, he realizes the snow has stopped and he can go outside. In the dark, they play together in the snow.
There is a tenderness in this book, a timelessness that is so beautiful. Sakai’s art is expressive and beautiful, showing an artistry that is unusual for children’s books. The rabbit’s ears show so much of their feelings, a small note that really carries the book. The words of the book are understated and brief. One can feel the emotions through the illustrations, but the words do not thrust them upon the reader. Each reader brings themselves to the book and can see themselves reflected in its subtlety. Simply masterful.
This is one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended for a quiet snow day at home, this book will not work for a raucous group of preschoolers because of its quietness. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Pirates, Ho! by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.
This jaunty, funny book is an ideal read-aloud for any swashbuckling event you may be planning. The pirates here are cartoony and friendly, but also willing to send someone to Davy’s Locker if necessary. They chase down other ships, seek treasure, and force people to walk the plant. All accompanied with the cry of Pirates, Ho! Everything children love about pirates is right here for them to enjoy.
Gilpin’s silly illustrations very effectively make this a fun book. Where the text could take it in a darker direction, the illustrations keep it firmly in a light-hearted spirit. Thomson’s words are rhythmic and one can almost hear the music in them: a jaunty pirate tune of course.
A winning pirate book that is one of the easiest to read aloud that I have seen, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.
Just Like a Baby by Juanita Havill, illustrated by Christine Davenier.
Ellen is a tiny baby but everyone in her family has big plans for her. In fact, everyone wants her to turn out just like them! So aunts and uncles and cousins gather around her bassinet in droves to declare exactly what she will be. A fisherman, a dancer, a scholar, a pilot, a musician, an athlete, and much more. But Ellen will actually do exactly as she herself wants to, as she announces with a loud howl.
This book captures the excitement, the attention and the joy of a new baby in a large family. Davenier’s illustrations are crowded with faces that reflect their delight. Havill does well in keeping the book from becoming a litany of ideas and maintains a rhythm and flow to the book as a whole. Her words dance, whoop and twirl. My favorite passage is her description of the baby’s cry as “a cloud-ruffling yowl.” Lovely and apt.
This delightful book is perfect for a new baby gift, but I can also see it being useful with new big siblings who will may worry about the attention paid to the new baby. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
El Barrio by Debbi Chocolate, illustrated by David Diaz
Take a trip through Spanish Harlem with a young boy who is very proud of his neighborhood. Glimpse holiday parades and a quinceanera party. Slurp ice cold popsicles. Hear quiet guitar music and blaring trumpets. This book presents a neighborhood using all of the senses, immersing the reader directly into this urban spicy mix. A lovely celebration of not only this neighborhood but everyone’s.
Diaz’s illustrations, done in mixed media, glow on the page. Evoking stained glass, the colors are so deep you could believe the sun shines through them. The paintings are framed by photographs taken in David’s own barrio and add interesting textures and patterns to the book. Chocolate’s verse is just as vibrant and alive as the illustrations, evoking sounds, sights and tastes in a series of impressions. It all adds up to a true celebration of a culture that we all get to participate in.
Bright illustrations and text that dances make this a great book to share. Appropriate for ages 4-6.