I’ll be taking a break from blogging to spend time with family. May your holidays be healthy, safe, warm and full of love. I hope to curl up with some new books and return with some new favorites to share. See you in the new year!
Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend (9781536214369)
Mr. Brown has a very important business job and carries a very important briefcase. He was always busy going to meetings and signing papers. But no matter how busy he is, he always makes time every day to go to the park for lunch with his important briefcase. On this day though, Mr. Brown didn’t notice a little baby grabbing his briefcase. Mr. Brown soon spots his briefcase heading away in a stroller. But before he can reach it, it gets hooked onto an ice cream cart. From the cart, it is soon snagged by a rider on the Ferris wheel. By the time Mr. Brown got through the line and onto the ride, the briefcase was carried onto a bus. Mr. Brown had lost his hat, his jacket and was quite the mess, but he borrowed a tricycle and headed after the bus. After all, his briefcase held very important things. Mr. Brown never caught the bus until it was already stopped at the school. He headed home with his briefcase held close. Once at home, he opened the briefcase to make sure all of his important items were still there. They were! But you may be surprised by what was in the briefcase.
Peacock takes a child’s view of business work in this picture book that is far more about the chase and the briefcase than Mr. Brown’s important work day. The wild chase around a delightful park and then through town is great fun with plenty of anticipation as the Ferris wheel turns or the bus chugs away. Peacock adds tension in the book, some of which is a marvelous surprise when the important contents of the briefcase are revealed.
The illustrations are warm and dynamic. The park is a delightful green, inviting and filled with all sorts of animals enjoying their day outside. There is a sense of community throughout the book, whether it is spending time together in a park or offering a tricycle to a grownup.
A busy book full of friendly animals and one very important briefcase. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.
Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (9780525556206)
Ada has grown up living with her Nigerian father, her mother a ghost moving in and out of her life because of her struggles with addiction. Ada was not a petite little thing, instead thick waisted and with a hairy upper lip, her clothes boyish, she didn’t make friends easily at school. Now Ada is off at college, the first time she has been able to make decisions on her own. Her time at a Historically Black College has her exploring her sexuality and looking more deeply at her childhood. She is also steadily being drawn into dance, helped by one of her only friends at college, a girl who isn’t a student there. Suddenly, Ada’s strong body makes sense as she expresses herself through dance, taking ownership of her body and her past.
Iloh’s verse novel is pure power. She writes so much truth in these pages, directly talking about sexual abuse, playing touching games with other children, and the expectations of conformity at young ages around appearance. She also shows through emotion, sex and introspection that there is a way forward, as long as you are true to yourself and what you want to do with your life. Her verses are searing at times, other times like a dream, and still others a call to action. She writes with such compassion and courage here that it’s incredible that this is her first novel.
Ada is a marvelous character, full of trauma from her childhood, cared for by a father who was doing his very best for her, which sometimes was not enough. Just the poems about therapy as a small child are insightful and achingly raw, full of such confusion. It is Ada’s triumph in finding her own path that is full of music and dance that offers hope to the reader and inspiration as well.
Powerful, honest and triumphant. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer (9781525301209)
Part of the Citizen Kid collection, this nonfiction picture book explore the story of how one village in India came to celebrate the birth of girls. Sundar grew up walking with his mother to get water through the heat. until she is killed from a snake bite. After this, Sundar takes comfort in hugging trees, thinking of his mother. Sundar grew up and taught his children to love nature as much as he does. He works for a mining company and grows so worried about what they are doing to the local environment and their unwillingness to plant trees to help that he leaves his job. He runs for election and becomes the head of the village. When his daughter dies, he plants trees in her memory. He has an idea, declaring that every girl born in the village will be welcomed by the planting of 111 trees. Sundar is mocked for this idea that goes against customs, but he does not give up. He steadily speaks with people, convincing them of the impact they could have on the local environment by planting these trees. As the trees grow, life in the village changes. Now the women don’t have to walk long distances to get water, the fruit of the trees help feed the children and families, and girls can go to school with the boys as the gender inequality is overturned.
Singh builds her story with care, showing Sundar’s childhood with his mother and then his loss of her as the deep inspiration for his idea. She demonstrates how one man’s quest to fix the environment can make an enormous difference not just for him but for an entire community, the future of the girls that grow up there, and the quality of life for all. Singh does not lecture, instead showing how resilience and perseverance can eventually pay off. The Author’s Note at the end of the book offers more information on Sundar and the other customs that he has ended, including child marriage.
The illustrations show the changing landscape as the trees are planted. From a desert-like wasteland, the steady increase in trees transforms the landscape and the pages to lush green. The images focus on the interplay between human and nature, showing a community that even when skeptical continued to listen.
An inspiring picture book that tells the true story of one man’s quest to bring back trees and stop gender inequality. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer (9781523507498)
Offer even the smallest children a look at Black history in the United States with this alphabet book. Told in rhyming stanzas, this picture book invites exploration beyond its covers. It begins with A is for anthem, a call for voices to rise in song and to call for freedom. B is for beautiful, with that and other letters, the book speaks to the importance of not listening to voices that put you down. B is also for bright, bold, brave, brotherhood and believing. That use of multiple words continues through the book, offering a feeling that there is so much to say with each letter, so much to do, so much left to accomplish together.
This alphabet book is several things at once. It’s a call to action for people of all ages to vote, to protest, to be heard. It is also a look at history, so there are letters that focus on artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and more. It is also a statement for self-esteem for Black children, to see themselves as valued, beautiful and able to bring change. It’s a book about how much has been accomplished, but also how much is yet to be done. The end of the book is filled with additional information on the people depicted under each letter as well as resources for further exploration.
The art is filled with bright colors. The images are flat, hearkening back to folk art even as it looks forward to the future and change happening. The art is filled with Black people, unknown and famous, full of urban setting and farms, protest signs and portaits.
A colorful and optimistic look at Black history and a call for Black lives to matter in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Workman Publishing
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781338574852)
This picture book tells Black and brown children that they matter. They were dreamed of by their ancestors. Stars sprayed the sky on the day they were born. Their first steps matter, their first words, and the first time a book opened as a mirror for them to see themselves. The book speaks to how at times you may question your place in the world, like when people laugh at your name or when you see the news about racial injustice and Black people being killed. But that does not change the power and beauty within you that comes from the sun, oceans, mountains and stars. Because not only do Black Lives Matter, but each Black and brown child does too.
This one is on lots of Best of the Year lists for 2020, and yet it somehow snuck right past me. The words by Charles are incredibly powerful, tying children of color directly to their ancestors, to the stars in the sky, to the social justice movements happening right now. Charles doesn’t dip into history, instead staying current and calling out the existing injustices and how they impact children. This book grounds children, showing they matter and that Black people matter, period.
Collier’s illustrations are phenomenal. He mixes paintings with collage to create images that are alight with hope and possibility. He weaves Black hands, Black faces together into one image after another that is arresting and visually stunning. These are powerful images to match the text, insisting on being seen.
One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (9781534457690)
This whirlwind of a novel is a grand retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliette Cai is in line to inherit the Scarlet Gang, one of the two gangs who rule 1920’s Shanghai. Juliette has spent the last few years in New York City, making her both a native of Shanghai but also partly an outsider. Upon her return to Shanghai, strange things start happening. A contagion is sweeping the city, causing those who catch it to tear out their own throats. Juliette is determined to figure out what is actually happening, a desire that causes her to have to work with her former lover, Roma, who is the heir to the White Flowers, the rival gang. After being brutally dumped by him, Juliette is wary of whether Roma is telling the truth. But when his own sister succumbs to the contagion, the two begin working together in earnest, encountering murder, death, monsters and much more.
This book is full of so much depth and such brilliant world building that it is nearly impossible to believe it’s a debut novel. Gong writes with real skill here, managing the pacing of the book beautifully, slowing it at appropriate times and allowing it to dash madly at others. The result is a book that sweeps up readers, offering them a glimpse of a fictional Shanghai that dazzles. Gong also riffs on the original very cleverly, not tying herself too tightly to Shakespeare but close enough that there are glimpses of that tale throughout the book.
The two main characters are marvelously driven and willing to kill people along the way. Gong does not soften the ongoing blood feud or what it has cost both Juliette and Roma. She also makes Juliette the one more likely to resort to direct violence, which is dynamite. The puzzle at the heart of the book is complicated and strange, leading directly to the next book in the series.
A dynamite first book in a dazzling fantasy series. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
The Christmas Feast by Nathalie Dargent, illustrated by Magali Le Huche (9780802855374
The wolf, the fox and the weasel decide that this year they will have a Christmas feast. Fox stole a turkey from the farm, but the plan didn’t quite work out after that. Once at the fox’s house, the turkey started telling the fox how he should prepare for the Christmas feast. The first step was cleaning up a bit. Turkey then asked for dinner, but it turned out that none of the others could cook. So Turkey made them a delicious stew from ingredients they foraged. That night they played cards and had a great time, even giving Turkey the best spot to sleep. The next day, Turkey made them all breakfast and then over the next few days, they decorated for Christmas. Finally on Christmas Eve, Turkey announced it was time for them to cook her, she requested to be flambeed. The friends dodged the question, but Turkey had the perfect solution in the end, one that worked for Christmas and the seasons that followed.
This Christmas story is a great twist on trickster tales of creatures being captured to be eaten and then tricking their captors into allowing them to escape. Here, there is a true friendship that is created on the pages, with Turkey enjoying their time together just as much as the others. It works because Turkey is entirely in charge from the very time she enters their home. She may be demanding, but she also provides for them, cares for them and makes their days better.
The art is cartoony and clear. The art has a sense of merriment throughout, showcasing Turkey as she leads the group of predators, creating a happy home for them all. There are small details throughout their home that are worth exploring, especially as the home changes with Turkey’s influence.
This is a book that will work well shared aloud in a holiday story time or around the Christmas tree. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
16 of the best children’s picture books to gift and cherish – My Modern Met
The best children’s books of 2020 for all ages – The Guardian
Best of 2020: children’s books – Los Angeles Public Library
Middle-grade graphic novels are storming the bestseller lists – Portland Monthly
Noteworthy children’s book anniversaries: Fall 2020 – Publishers Weekly
SLJ’s List of Lists – School Library Journal
LIBRARIES & PUBLISHING
Dreaming about the ideal library – The New York Times
Just how white is the book industry? – The New York Times
The top 10 library stories of 2020 – Publishers Weekly
Best Young Adult Books of the Year – Kirkus