Review: Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour

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Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie LaTour (9781773060415)

A little girl heads to Haiti from her home in America to visit her Auntie Luce, a painter. The girl has sat for a painting year after year since she was seven and first visited. She leaves the snow and cold behind for the tropical world of Haiti with its heat, bright buses, pink cathedral and green hills. She asks her aunt why she never left Haiti, and her aunt explains that she wants to stay in Haiti her entire life and that she is simply different than the girl’s mother who moved to America. There are many things different in Haiti, including the paintings that cover the walls of Auntie Luce’s small home. The girl sees portraits of national Haitian heroes as well as generations of her own family. As her portrait is finished, Auntie Luce encourages the little girl to see herself as both Haitian and American, not one or the other.

This picture book cleverly incorporates small pieces of the history of Haiti into the story line. The little girl has many questions about Haiti in particular but also about why some family members choose to stay while others leave. Small bits of Haitian life are also mentioned, showing the differences between Haiti and America very clearly. The book also looks at art and the way that it offers a chance to speak in a different way about difficult things. Even the paintings themselves are described in gorgeous language that will have readers seeing even more details than they might have.

LaTour’s illustrations turn this picture book into a real look at Haiti through the eyes of someone who clearly loves it. The images come alive as they show a bustling street, the mountain home of Auntie Luce, and the images of ancestors and heroes from Haiti.

A vibrant look at Haiti in a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson (9780525580423)

An incredible collection of diverse authors and illustrations come together in this collection to offer poems, short essays, and encouragement to young readers struggling to find their place in today’s troubled and divisive world. The pieces encourage children to be activists in this dark world, to shine their light where they can, and also to be careful and aware of dangers along the way.  Each piece of writing is accompanied by a work of art that also inspires young readers to step forward and make the world better.

Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Draper, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Ellen Oh are part of this collection. They speak personally about challenges and what it means to step forward. Their writing is paired with art by artists like Ekua Holmes, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper, and Javaka Steptoe. The poems are wrenching and honest, revealing the world that people of color live in every day, the challenges they face and the ways they find a way to make change despite the obstacles. There are poems that are poignant, other pieces that are angry, none that are ready to give up.

A call to action for young people, this book is an anthology that belongs in every library in our country. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

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

Review: The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd (9781536200317)

An award-winning poet and spoken-word artist, Clarke has created a picture book that shimmers and sings. It tells the story of a little girl whose brothers have created a bicycle out of scraps. Their family lives on the outskirts of the no-go desert and there is little all around them. The best thing though, is their bike. Built out of tin cans, buckets, bark and wood. It is enough to carry all of them back and forth, ignoring their fed-up mother as they whisk past.

The words in this picture book are meant to be shared aloud, coming alive as they are spoken. The rhythms emerge and the various invented and evocative words shine, such as “winketty wonk” and “shicketty shake.” Even the words she uses to describe the setting around them become tangible with the “stretching-out sky” above it all.

The illustrations are somehow equal to the glorious poetry. Done in acrylic on recycled cardboard, they have ghosts of tape and printed words still on them. The smooth texture of the cardboard is used next to ripped areas that show the corrugation and offer new textures to the images. This use of recycled material to tell the story of a scrap bike, sets just the right tone. And on that cardboard is a story of celebration and childhood.

One of the best picture books of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.

The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.

This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.

This Week’s Tweets & Pins

Here are my favorite tweets and pins from this week:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Best Halloween Picture Books (an Entirely Subjective List) —

“I am living, walking proof in the power of libraries and librarians to change lives.” –

Top 10 Arts Books for Youth – https://t.co/AynsX01rJm

TEEN BOOKS

Americanized being made into a film by Reese Witherspoon – https://t.co/rn8FyRSmKT

“I was such a huge Greek mythology geek as a kid, it’s impossible for it not to come into play in my storytelling,” says Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy – https://t.co/6pInJbymJx

“Legend” author Marie Lu has multimillion-dollar book deal – https://t.co/x2v0BQKVhX

Writing Girls and Rethinking Fairytales: https://t.co/L25Xl82Xp2

Review: Picturing America by Hudson Talbott

Picturing America by Hudson Talbott

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott (9780399548673)

In this picture book biography, the life of artist Thomas Cole is explored. It begins with his early years in England and his love of drawing. He and his sister explored the area they lived in, looking for new things to draw. But when the Industrial Revolution came, it brought hard times for his family. So Thomas moved to America where his family settled down in Steubenville, Ohio and opened a workshop making decorative items. Thomas handpainted many of them. When he saw a book of fine art for the first time, his dream was born. He went on the road, selling his portraits. He eventually got a patron who sent him on a journey up the Hudson River where Thomas painted the wilderness. Soon his paintings were the toast of New York City. Thomas went on to travel to Europe and was inspired to paint a series of paintings about the fall of an empire. Thomas continued to capture the spirit of America and founded his own school Hudson River school of painting along the way.

Talbott tells the complicated story of Cole’s life with a refreshing ease. He has a real clarity in the story he is telling, keeping the tale focused on the results of Cole’s early struggles and then when he obtains success on the new inspirations Cole found on his travels. The book reads well and Cole’s story demonstrates tenacity and resilience as he followed a winding way toward being well known. It is also the story of a young America, what it said to a young immigrant and how its wilderness was worth preserving.

The illustrations combine a friendly lightness even during Cole’s struggles with Cole’s own paintings. It is a treat to see his actual paintings as part of the book. They are hinted at in other sections, but when it truly is his own they are dazzling. They demonstrate firmly why his art caught on and he became a famous painter.

A particularly timely book about an immigrant artist who loved America and caught her essence in paint. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (9780062686237)

King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table love to tell tall tales of their adventures, but they are all lies. There just aren’t enough mythical beasts for them to battle. When Sir Erec brags that he’d slain forty dragons, he knew that he’d pushed the storytelling too far. It caught Merlin’s attention and Merlin suggested that Sir Erec, Sir Bors, Sir Hector and the Black Knight explore one particular cave. As they did so, along with Bors’ brave squire, they are transported back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now there were more than enough “dragons” to battle! But they may just prove to be too much for our hearty knights. The question becomes who would win in a battle, a knight or a dinosaur?

Phelan clearly has had a ball writing this book. It is filled with jaunty references to King Arthur’s court and has a humor that children will love. The knights have distinct personalities from one another and beautifully grate on one-another’s nerves. The knights enter a world of real peril where Phelan creates moment after moment of battles, dangers and sword-swinging good times.

There are a couple of reveals here that invite young women to see themselves as knights too. In fact, the female knight completely rocks! The dinosaurs who battle one another with a joyous abandon add so much to the tale, something that dinosaur fans will love to see. The book has illustrations sprinkled throughout, breaking up the text for young readers.

A boisterous, battle-filled book that will appeal to young knights and young dinosaur experts and anyone looking for a good read. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Brianne Farley (9781524773687)

Katie loved to build with blocks, from the noises that they made to the way they wobbled and then fell. Most of all, Katie loved building something new. Owen loved reading books, from the smell of the paper to the rustle of turned pages. Most of all, Owen loved reading something new. The two argued about which was best and then the school librarian stepped in. She gave Katie a stack of books to read and Owen a stack of books to shelve. Katie couldn’t settle in and read at all. So she started to build with the books until after a very large topple of a tower, a book on castle engineering caught her eye. Owen meanwhile was reading the books he was supposed to shelve. But then he noticed that books could balance on one another and soon he was building with them. The two admitted to each other that the other had been right, but then they come together and put building and stories into one big idea.

Lloyd writes the stories of each child in parallel with one another. The rhythms and patterns of each of their experiences match one another, creating a great structure for the book. The intervention of the librarian amusingly does not go as she plans, with the children taking their own approach to everything. Beautifully, it isn’t until Katie discovers just the right book for her that the world of reading opens up. Meanwhile, Owen is having a similar experience with building.

The illustrations by Farley add so much to the story. He manages to create amazing structures out of blocks and books, including elephants and giraffes that will have readers looking closely at them and wondering if they could actually be built. The final pages with the two children working together is also incredible. I also love the librarian’s response to what she has inadvertently created.

Funny and accepting, this book shows the power of reading and how it can build into something brand new. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Through the Window by Barb Rosenstock

Through the Window Views of Marc Chagall's Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (9781524717513)

The team who created The Noisy Paint Box take on another picture book biography of a famous artist. This time the book is about Chagall who was born in Belarus. Even from a young age he was interested in being an artist. He is sent to school for art, but doesn’t conform to the Russian instruction, filling his canvas with color rather than Greek studies. He moved to Paris where his entire life changed with new friends and a new French name. When he heads back to Russia for a family event, he is trapped there. He meets and marries his wife, the two of them eventually leaving Soviet Russia for Paris again. Later, he moves to America where he uses different media to create art, eventually creating his well-known stained glass windows.

Rosenstock brilliantly uses the theme of windows to structure this biography. Because Chagall traveled to various places in his life, this proves to be a vibrant way to follow his life from the early days to his later work. Throughout, readers will be shown that Chagall does not fit into Russia’s expectations for him and for his art. Colors are also used to show the differences between Chagall and Russia. Windows and colors beautifully frame this story, making it approachable and compelling.

The illustrations pay just the right amount of homage to Chagall without trying to imitate his work. The illustrations are lush and detailed. They are filled with gorgeous colors that almost illuminate the pages and certainly convey the beauty of Russia, Paris and Chagall’s artwork and life.

A rich look by an award-winning duo, this picture book is a great addition to artist biographies for youth. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books.