The Longest Storm by Dan Yaccarino

Cover image for The Longest Storm.

The Longest Storm by Dan Yaccarino (9781662650475)

This picture book explores the Covid lockdown in a creative and open way that also allows it to speak to other times of darkness that families experience. Covid is shown as a storm that hits and is unlike any other storm, one that forces you to be inside for an unknown length of time. The family struggles with their new time together in a house, going from feeling strange to people getting angry and staying apart from one another. That’s when the storm rumbled and lightning struck, knocking the power out. One candle lit against the darkness brought the family together. The next morning felt different with pancakes and board games and a new way forward even though they were still caught in the storm. Then one day, the sun came out again. It was possible to go outside and start cleaning up.

As I mentioned, this picture book speaks deeply to a variety of dark times felt by a family. The family goes through a complete grief cycle on the page, allowing the book to be about the loss of a parent just as easily as it is about Covid. It’s a beautiful accomplishment of writing, speaking to the universal rather than the specific and allowing us all to see the grieving process as part of Covid too.

Yaccarino often does light-hearted titles, but this one has a lot of emotions that flow across the page. He uses color and expressions to convey many emotions from the anger of being together to the loneliness of being together but separate to the relief of finding joy in one another once more.

A powerful look at Covid and loss that will speak to all of us. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen

Cover image for Survivor Tree.

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker (9780316487672)

On a bustling street in New York City, a small tree grew along the tall steel buildings. It was there for almost thirty years, marking the seasons. Then one September day, there were explosions and buildings fell to rubble, crushing and burning the tree. The tree was found in the wreckage with a few green leaves and taken far away to fresh soil. For several seasons, the tree stayed bare, then one day blossoms and buds arrived. For ten years, the tree grew there until it was time to return home. Home to a newly empty sky, where people stopped and wept, and where the tree with its burns and scars offered a way to bridge past to present.

This picture book is based on the true story of the tree that survived the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Through seasons of bustling city streets to the attack itself to seasons of healing afterwards, the tree shows an inspiring resilience for us all. Using delicate prose, the author writes of the beauty of the tree even when people were not stopping to notice it. The survival of the tree is told with a gentle admiration for its very survival.

Becker beautifully captures the New York City setting of the tree as it changes from before the attack and afterwards. He offers not just a story of the tree itself but an accompanying story in the illustrations about a family growing up alongside the tree and then there loss and memories after the attack. It is this subtle human connection of people to the tree that add much to the book.

A haunting and beautiful look at 9/11 and the tree that survived it and continues to inspire. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller

Cover image for Be Strong.

Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781250221117)

Being strong doesn’t just mean that you can make it to the top of the climbing wall in gym like Cayla. The young narrator has been told by her family that being strong will get you through life when hard times hit. But some days she can’t even lift her heavy backpack. So she asks her father how she can be strong. He tells her that strength is showing up like when they help people who have lost their homes. Her mother says strength is speaking up, like when her mother worked to get a crossing guard at a busy street. Her grandmother says it means not giving up, like her starting to run. So the girl figures out what the means for her, how she can help those around her, how she can speak up and change the way things work, and how if she keeps on trying she can reach her goals both on her own and with some help.

Miller cleverly plays against the stereotypical definition of strength early in this picture book. She shows that yes, physical strength is definitely strength and then proceeds through the rest of the book to show the other aspects of strength, including resilience, determination, speaking up, setting goals, and asking for help. Miller’s text is simple and reads aloud well. She nicely walks young readers through what strength is, allowing them to see it both in themselves and others.

Hill’s illustrations show a diverse cast of characters in an urban setting. The young narrator is Black and her community of classmates and others are a variety of races and religions. The illustrations are bright and friendly, inviting readers into a world where children can make a difference.

A vibrant look at strength and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone

Cover image for Fast Pitch.

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone (9781984893017)

Shenice is the captain of the first girls softball team in the league that is entirely girls of color. There’s a lot of pressure on her to perform and to play the role of captain, inspiring others with her belief that they can not only win that single game, but also win the entire championship. As Shenice and the rest of the team put up with microaggressions and outright racism from other teams and their communities, she finds out the reason that her grandfather left professional baseball. Shenice meets her great-uncle Jack, a man savvy enough to not speak about this in front of her parents, but also elderly enough that getting the full story takes some time and effort. As her grandfather’s history is revealed, Shenice realizes that she might have a chance to clear her grandfather’s name for a crime he didn’t commit, and the reason he was pushed out of baseball entirely. Now she just has to keep focused on both finding the proof and also leading her team to victory. It may be too much for one person to handle!

Stone has created a book that speaks at once to both modern racism and then to systemic racism and its impact on Black people in the past and today. This is done in a personal way, so that readers experience the racism that Shenice and her friends are shown at their games. The clever use of family history will lead readers and the characters to explore the past and how it serves as a lens for what is also happening today.

The characters in this book are particularly well drawn. Shenice herself is determined, passionate and skilled. Uncle Jack is fabulous, funny and sly. Then there is the team, the one that stands by their captain, even getting into some trouble along the way as they all work to solve the mystery together.

Game on! Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.

A Bunch of Board Books

Cover for Everyone's Sleepy but the Baby
Cover for Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby.

Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby by Tracy C. Gold, illustrated by Adele Dafflon (9781641704403)

This honest portrayal of bedtime with a baby may be soothing to parents as much as to the baby it’s being read to. In rhyming text, this board book explores getting a non-sleepy child to bed. The rhymes are fun and manage to be silly while still being able to be read softly and quietly as a bedtime process. The illustrations show the very tired parents trying to get their little one to sleep. In the end, everyone is sleepy. Maybe even your child too!

Cover for My Heart Beats
Cover for My Heart Beats.

My Heart Beats by Rina Singh (9781459825680)

This board book is full of love for children and shares the thump of a heart beat in different languages. Told in rhymes, the languages are explained on the final pages of the book. They include Japanese, Italian, Swedish, Korean, French, and Urdu. The photographs in the book are full of smiling children infants through toddlers, interacting with an adult in their life. The result is a hug of a board book sure to make everyone smile.

Cover for New House
Cover image for New House.

New House by Dave Wheeler (9780593224922)

Very few board books explore moving from the point of view of a toddler. This clever board book fills that gap very nicely. Told in just a few words on each page, the toddler explores his new home. It has a new door, new staircase, new carpet, and new tub. When night comes it has new dark and new shadows until he is reminded that a lot of the same things came along with them, including his parents, blanket, monkey and night light. The illustrations share a story of messiness, bath and bedtime that is sure to enchant little ones who may be making a move themselves.

Cover for The Night Is Deep and Wide
Cover image for The Night Is Deep and Wide.

The Night Is Deep and Wide by Gillian Sze, illustrated by Sue Todd (9781459824812)

A gorgeous bedtime board book, this book uses repeating imagery and lines to soothe little ones to sleep. The structure here is more complex than most board books, written as an Italian villanelle. The cyclic pattern of the book, repeats phrases like “Moonlight falls on eyes that close” and “tulips close, row by row.” The illustrations show a child exploring their nighttime world as the tulips close around them, the songbirds curl up, and a hush settles over everything as the moonlight shines. The illustrations are equally stunning, with a woodblock feel and clever use of pops of color.

All reviewed from library copies.

News to Wake Your Brain Cells – August 27


Jill Murphy, children’s author and illustrator, dies aged 72 – The Guardian

The long history of Golden Books – Book Riot

The most popular children’s books from every country – Mental Floss

These 11 Japanese children’s books are next-level adorable – Romper


Here are 24 young adult mystery and thriller books you’ll consume in one sitting – BuzzFeed

A realistic list of books you can get young adults to actually finish – Book & Film Globe

These 3 YA novels will transform your summer into something fantastic – NPR

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Federer

Cover image for Bodies Are Cool.

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Federer (9780593112625)

This picture book celebrates bodies in such a positive and inclusive way. The amount of inclusivity is inspiring, offering various races, skin colors, and sizes. The people depicted are also a variety of ages and abilities. Accessibility tools are depicted just as openly and frankly as freckles, body hair and curves. The book shows an urban community full of different people. They move to different settings like dance class, painting a mural, and spending time outside or at the pool. Through those, we see their bodies in various positions, using different assistive aids, and showing LGBT families and people as well.

The text in the book celebrates so much that people sometimes are ashamed of. That includes “soggy tummies” or “scrawny legs” as well as scars, hair, skin, eyes and faces. Every page ends with the line “Bodies are cool!” to remind us all that we are in bodies that may be unique and different but also share qualities with one another and all are equally cool as the others.

The illustrations are key to the success of the book. With the celebratory tone, the illustrations embrace diversity and community. I particularly love the ice cream parlor where all of the people with freckles, moles and patches eat matching ice cream. The entire book is a sweet joy.

Get this one in every public library to celebrate all the bodies in your community. Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

When Grandfather Flew by Patricia MacLachlan

Cover image for When Grandfather Flew.

When Grandfather Flew by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Chris Sheban (9780823444892)

Grandfather loved to birdwatch. Milo was a quiet child and he listened to Grandfather’s information on birds and what his Grandfather loved most about them. Grandfather liked many birds like the hawks and kestrels, but his favorite was the soaring bald eagle. Grandfather loved the sharp sight of the birds and all they could see from high above. One day, Milo and Grandfather rescued a chickadee that hit the window, releasing it into the air when it had recovered. As Grandfather lost his eyesight, he could still enjoy the birds at the trees since Milo and his nurse could help him identify them. When Grandfather died, it was Milo who called everyone outside to see the eagle that soared high and then circled down low near them with a flash of his eyes.

Told in the voice of Milo’s older sister, this picture book is a look at an aging grandparent and his eventual death. The book offers connectivity to Grandfather through his love of birds, sharing that love with one child in particular who was willing to listen and to see for him. Newbery-Medalist MacLachlan has crafted this story with kindness and gentleness, offering a sibling view that loves both Milo and Grandfather, a voice that marvels at the chickadee release and at the eagle coming so low.

Sheban’s illustrations are done in watercolor, pastel and graphite. They have such depth and texture, the colors extraordinarily layered and light-filled. They share the wonder of birds in flight, the beauty of the farm landscape and the quiet connections of the family.

A quiet and profound look at life, love, birds and death. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima

Cover image for Hardly Haunted.

Hardly Haunted by Jessie Sima (9781534441705)

A house stood on a hill. It was worried because it didn’t have a family to live in it. In fact, the house wondered if it might be haunted! But it didn’t want to be haunted, and hoped that if it behaved perfectly no one would notice that it was spooky. Still, there was nothing to be done about the cobwebs and dust, or the squeaky doors and stairs or the rattles in the pipes. The house tried very hard, staying perfectly still and quiet, holding her breath. But when the wind came, she couldn’t stop the scratch of branches on the roof or the groan of the wind through her windows. It let the house relax again, accepting that she was just spooky. Now all she needed was a family looking for a haunted house that rattled, groaned and squeaked.

This picture book reads aloud really nicely, inviting readers into the struggle of a house that dreams of being entirely different than she is. The writing draws out the noises that the house makes, featuring them so that children listening to the story can help make the sounds too. The house itself is a marvelous character, struggling to be different until she accepts herself as she is with all her creaks and scratches.

The art is just the right amount of spooky for preschoolers, full of purple shadows, long green grass and a black cat to enter the house with. The house herself uses her windows to great effect to smile, worry, and eventually come alight in the night.

A little spooky, full of noise and lots of fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.