The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers (9780008357917)
A picture book fable, it tells the story of a man, Fausto, who believed that he owned everything. He set out to survey all he owned. He owned the flower, he owned the sheep, and he owned the tree. He claimed ownership of a field, a forest and lake. When he tried to claim a mountain, the mountain refused until Fausto put up an amazing fight and showed the mountain who was boss. The mountain reluctantly agreed that he belonged to Fausto. Fausto then headed onto a boat and out into the sea. He told the sea that it belonged to him. At first the sea did not answer, but when it did it disagreed. Perhaps one of Fausto’s fits would help, or will it?
Jeffers has written a fable about greed and an endless hunger for ownership of nature, land and water. It is a story about having enough, about having limits, and about even if you are as greedy as Fausto discovering those limits (hopefully before it’s too late!) There is a great pacing here where page turns are effectively used to show length of time and length of refusal to belong to Fausto. The text is incredibly simple and effective. Jeffers’ illustrations very cleverly use whiteness to convey things like silence and space. He has several pages that are blank except for the words on them, hanging in space. It’s a beautiful effect.
Another winner from a master author/illustrator. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Philomel.
I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781620143117)
This wonderful collection of poems and illustrations speak directly to the poets’ cultural heritage. Each poem looks deeply at family and identity, whether it is being asked where you come from or meeting a family member for the first time. Some of the poems show the fear of being African-American in America, the oversimplification of race when filling out forms, the way food can bring people together, and the joy of summer nights. The illustrations paired with each of the poems highlight the wide variety of cultures and heritages in the texts. The result is a rainbow of skin tones and colors, weaving together to create a book that reflects the vastness of our country.
The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience. Poetry always gives a more concentrated look, a deep feel for the author, and that is certainly the case here. The illustrations are wonderful, each self-contained and presented almost as a treasure to discover along this journey.
A great compilation of art and poetry that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.
Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison (9780399186660)
When bear wakes up in his den under a tree, he heads down the road to find a cabin. He rings the doorbell and meets the little girl who lives there. After he devours all of her food, she is rather grumpy, but she has an idea. She gives the bear a hat and they head to town. They first go to the library to listen to stories. Then to the market where the bear must learn to be nice. They head back to the cabin and feast on pancakes together. After some quiet time, the little girl and the bear head back to his den. He is sulky and uncertain, but she helps him along. In the end, he is happily back asleep under a new quilt and with some treats ready for spring.
As with most alphabet books, this one is not about the writing really and features words that match each of the letters of the alphabet. The design of the book is more inventive than one might expect with sometimes multiple words being used or the same word over and over again to convey excitement. The real treat here are the illustrations which are completely winning. The relationship between bear and girl develops quickly with the bear far more hungry than frightening in any scenario. His hesitation to return home at the end also makes him a character children will love rather than fear. The huge bear is drawn realistically and dominates the pages, add the yellow hat with pom poms and he quickly becomes more approachable, though many in town don’t see him that way.
A wintry alphabet book about making new friends. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess (9780802853707)
Follow the journey as a branch from a beaver’s dam heads downstream to eventually become a piece of driftwood on a beach. A boy watches in the autumn trees as a branch breaks away from the dam and takes a winding journey. It gets stuck for a frozen winter and then is loosened again and gets into the ocean. There, it serves as a perch for birds, gets caught in a net, and is once again thrown back into the salt water. When it eventually washes onto the beach, the wood is entirely transformed into driftwood. It is picked up by the same boy, who uses it to draw on the beach and then takes it home to watch the beavers next autumn.
Miniver offers an informational author’s note in the final pages that explains the importance of driftwood for the ecological system of woods, streams, oceans and beaches. The loss in the amount of driftwood is impacting these environments negatively. The journey of one branch into becoming driftwood is a clever way to show how the transformation works and also to highlight the various parts of the environment that driftwood touches and impacts. The art is done colored pencil and ink with deep, soft colors that will have readers leaning in to explore the nature revealed on the journey to the ocean.
A quiet adventure that highlights the interconnectivity of the nature around us all. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans.
Chicago Public Library has published their 2019 Best of the Best Books lists. They range from adult through board books.
There are lists dedicated to teens, including fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels and manga. Lists for children’s books include board books, picture books, fiction and informational books.
There are lovely surprises to be found in these lists, which include books that you may not see in other lists of the best of the year. Definitely worth exploring!
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9780374303730)
Maria, Juan and their mother hadn’t seen Maria’s grandmother in five years. Today they were celebrating Christmas by taking a bus to the border with Mexico for Los Posada Sin Fronteras where families could meet with the border fence between them. Maria had made her grandmother a scarf that her mother was finishing and Juan had drawn a picture for her. When they reach the border, they must stand in line for their turn to see their family. They get their turn and get to see their grandmother and the fence disappears as they reconnect. But there is no way to get their gifts through the fence, until Maria has an idea that even the border police approve of.
Perkins takes a celebration that few of us have heard of and turns it into a universal story of immigration and separated families on the United States border. Through Maria’s story, readers will deeply connect with the physical separation of families and the power dynamic in place. Mitali though leaves readers with a soaring hope as Maria manages to get Juan’s gift to her grandmother despite the fence in the way. The illustrations capture the small family and the large border fence, offering real perspectives on the size but also showing how those fall away when family connects with one another.
A strong and purposeful look at walls, immigration and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King (9781338236361)
Liberty loves the stars. She creates star maps that allow her to capture what she sees in the stars by drawing her own constellations on the night sky. But when her parents get a divorce, it is like her entire world fell apart. Her father assures her that she will see him often, but they don’t see him for 86 days after the divorce! In the meantime, Lib has witnessed a meteorite fall to earth and recovered the heavy stone. As time goes on, Liberty begins to seethe with rage. It’s an anger that emerges in school sometimes, sometimes at her parents, but mostly sits inside her, red and hot. It’s that anger that made her throw the toaster through the kitchen window, hides a diamond ring from a bully at school, and allows her to tell her father what she really thinks. Liberty worries that she might have depression like her father, and she gradually learns the power of talking about her feelings openly.
Amy Sarig King is the name that the YA author A.S. King writes under for middle-grade books. She does both extremely well. Here King shows the first months of a divorce from the children’s point of view. She steadily reveals what happened in the parent’s marriage, but the real focus is on grief as the two sisters must navigate their way through the pain of losing their family. The emotions run high, from tears to yelling to throwing things. They all feel immensely authentic and real on the page.
Liberty is a great heroine. Far from perfect, particularly at school, she is navigating life by confiding in a meteorite and trying to help everyone else. She is filled with rage much of the time, but also filled with a deep compassion for others, sometimes to her own detriment. King looks frankly at mental health issues here both in parents and in Liberty herself. The use of counselors is spoken of openly and without issue as the family gets the help they need.
A powerful look at divorce, grief and coming to terms with life. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.
School Library Journal has named their best books of 2019. The 92 books are broken into six categories: picture books, transitional chapter books, middle grade, YA, nonfiction and graphic novels. You can also download the list in a handy PDF format.