A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim (9781541538368)
Released on October 1, 2019.
A Hmong girl moves into a new home in this picture book that celebrates community. The house had a swing and a garden full of melons and beans. Inside, the family hung the story cloth about how the Hmong came to America. Ruth and Bob, were two elderly neighbors who had a special bench they sat on. They waved to the girl and her family, and they were even older than the girl’s grandmother, Tais Tais. After her mother had her two little baby brothers, the little girl wanted to escape the crying sometimes, so she headed outside. In fall, the trees lost their leaves and the neighbor worked outside to rake them up. In the winter, no one sat outside anymore and no one waved. Then one day, the girl found out that Ruth had died. As spring arrived, they began work in the garden and saw Bob outside alone. That’s when the girl has an idea about how to show Bob that she cares.
There is a beautiful delicacy to this entire book from the fine-lined illustrations to the skillful balancing of seasons changing, new babies and someone passing. Yang invites readers into a Hmong family, showing elements such as story cloths and multiple generations of families living together. The friendly way of welcoming people to a neighborhood but also not intruding is shown here as well as how seasons in the Midwest connect everyone together in a shared experience of beauty and weather.
Kim’s illustrations embrace the natural world, showing the changing seasons with color and using grass and trees to depict a neighborhood and a home. When the little girl at the end of the book draws images on the sidewalk, there is a direct connection to the story cloth, showing a map of life that is universal but also specific to a Hmong tradition.
Deeply humane and community oriented. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (9781681191089)
When a project about family is assigned at school, Amara realizes that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her own family. Her mothers’ parents are both dead and she had no siblings, but her father’s side lives across the country in Harlem. Amara asks if she could travel to Harlem to see her grandfather whom she only knows from phone calls and cards, since her father often goes there on business. Her parents refuse for some time, then agree to allow her to go. It will be the first time in twelve years that her father sees his own father. Now it is Amara’s job to complete her school assignment by interviewing family members, explore New York City and also bring her family back together, all in a single week!
Newbery Honor winner, Watson brings her considerable writing skill to a fractured family. She captures how forgiveness is difficult even though love is still there and allows the connection between father and son to organically rebuild. All of this is seen through Amara’s eyes as she discovers that her family is different than she realized and that her father has a surprising history she knew nothing about.
Setting is so important in this novel with Harlem and New York City becoming characters in Amara’s story. Many important places in African-American history are explored including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center. Murals and sculptures that feature African-American figures in history are also featured in the story. Readers will want to explore these streets themselves.
A warm and rich exploration of complicated family relationships and love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Little Smokey by Robert Neubecker (9781984851055)
When a new little plane joins the National Interagency Fire Center (Nif-C), they don’t have a job right away. Each plane earns their name, so the little plane must wait to find out what he will be called. Buster is a big air tanker that sprays water on forest fires. Bruno is even bigger and scoops water from lakes to put out the fires. Bertha is the biggest plan with tons of red fire retardant on board. The big plans head out to put out fires while the little plane is left circling the airport. As they fight a large fire, the little plane offers again and again to help but is refused. It isn’t until the fire spreads to a canyon that they need the little sized plane’s agility. This is his chance!
This is a modern story with a vintage vibe. The anthropomorphized planes are all friendly but also fierce when they fight the fires. The feeling of a little one being left out of serious business is something that children will relate to. Then the little plane being skilled and just right for specific scenarios is an empowering ending to the tale. The book ends with more information on wildfires and fire fighting. The illustrations are done in watercolor and pencils. They capture the drama of the wildfires and the skill and methods it takes to battle them. The bright colored planes shine even through the smoke.
A winning story for kids who love airplanes that is actually fun to read aloud. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.
Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins (9781541561922)
This nonfiction picture book explores hibernation and other forms of dormancy in cold weather. The book looks not only at animals, but at trees as they enter their own dormant winter period. Ladybugs gather together for warmth and pause until spring. Ground squirrels hibernate, shivering for hours to keep warm. Chickadees slow their hearts and pause on cold nights until the next day. Alligators sink into the mud. Earthworms go dormant during a drought until water returns. Then when water or warmth comes back, everyone returns to full life once again.
The breadth of subject matter here is impressive and makes the book far more fascinating than just being about hibernation. The writing is poetic with recurring phrases that call for the dormant species to pause… and the reader will naturally do the same. Each creature is approached in a similar way, making for a book that reads well aloud and also creating a cohesiveness that this broad a subject requires. The book ends with definitions of different types of dormancy and a bibliography for further exploration of the subject. The photographs in the book come from collections such as Getty Images and stock photos. They work well here, offering glimpses of the species dormant as well as active.
An interesting science book that will share well with a group. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Millbrook Press.
Our Favorite Day by Joowon Oh (9781536203578)
Papa has a daily routine where he wakes up and drinks some tea. He waters his plants and tidies up the house. Then he takes the bus into town and has lunch at the same restaurant where he eats his favorite lunch: dumplings. Then he heads home and goes to bed early. The next day, his routine is much the same. But he stops in town at the craft store for a few things. And he orders his dumplings to go, along with a second serving. Back home, he waits patiently until his little granddaughter comes to visit. The two of them have dumplings for lunch. Tidy up together, and then get out the craft supplies. The two agree that these are their favorite days and the day ends with a butterfly kite flying in the sky.
Simple and profound, this picture book captures the pleasant routines of life, a day filled with small errands and good food. On the day the granddaughter arrives, the book comes alive along with Papa. There is an excitement, an anticipation that is palpable in the book. The two characters adore one another, something evident in both their body language and what they tell one another.
Oh’s illustrations are done in paper collage, layered to create a real sense of depth on the page. They are done in bright and friendly colors. Papa’s days are full of activity every day, and there is no sense of sadness while he is alone, just even more happiness when his granddaughter joins him.
A lovely look at grandparents and grandchildren that is charming. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
The Indies Introduce are selected by two panels of booksellers who choose 10 adult books and 10 children’s books as the best debuts of the season. Here are the books for children and teens selected for Winter/Spring 2020:
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim
The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke
Layoverland by Gabby Noone
Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
The Silence of Bones by June Hur
Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith
Frankly in Love by David Yoon (9781984812209)
Frank Li’s parents expect him to date only Korean-American girls. They make racist comments about all other races, even though Frank’s best friend Q is black. So when Frank breaks the rules and starts dating Brit, a white girl, he has to come up with a cover story. That’s where Joy comes in, she is a fellow Korean-American also caught in her families rules and she is also dating a non-Korean. So the two of them create a system where they pretend to date one another while actually dating other people. It’s the perfect plan until it falls apart as Frank learns what love is. Meanwhile, Frank’s family faces health issues and violence. Frank realizes that while his family may never understand him, he loves and needs them in his life.
Yoon has created one of the hottest YA titles of the fall. To my delight, it’s popular for a reason. Yoon’s frank exploration of racism both societal and within one family is refreshingly honest, not ever ducking away from difficult and deep conversations. The interplay of that and other serious topics with an almost rom com escapade of fake dating makes for an intoxicating mix.
Frank Li (whose name is a delight) is a wonderful protagonist. He is immensely smart and not overly naive. His personal take on his heritage and culture grows and changes throughout the novel in an organic way. There are no easy answers offered here, no final moment of clarity. Instead it is all about growth and the ability to understand one another and find connection, even after it has been damaged or severed.
A great teen novel that is a marvelous mix of romance and depth. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Putnam.
The American Library Association has released the top eleven most challenged books from last year. Their Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to materials in 2018 that included 483 books. You will see that once again many of the books are challenged for having LGBTQIA+ content. Here are the top ten:
George by Alex Gino
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan