Review: Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle

Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle

Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle (9781534429536)

The award-winning author returns with a companion book to her memoir Enchanted Air. In this book, Engle writes in verse about her time in high school. Margarita thinks often of her time in her childhood spent in Cuba, but now that world is entire inaccessible to her and her family. As she attends high school in Los Angeles, Margarita dreams of traveling the world. She is also involved in the unrest of the 1960s as the issues of war, peace, civil rights, and freedom cause protests. Engle finishes high school and goes on to find her own winding path through college on her own terms. It is a memoir filled with hope, longing for peace, and a discovery of personal identity.

Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor given her body of work for children and teens. This second memoir takes a long look at the 1960s in America and the tensions between war and peace. She doesn’t shrink away from topics such as drug use. Her own path to a college degree will also help young people who may be wondering whether they have to go to Ivy League schools to succeed. The joy of finding teachers who are passionate and supportive eclipses the need for the school to be acclaimed.

As always Engle’s writing is exceptional. Here with the personal lens, it is all the more powerful and moving. There are poems that are intensely personal and others that take a less immediate and more philosophical view. The play of the two together allows the book to give a real look at her time growing up and the times of her youth.

Another amazing read by Engle, a poet to be celebrated. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: Wings by Cheryl B. Klein

Wings by Cheryl B. Klein

Wings by Cheryl B. Klein, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (9781534405103)

This super-simple picture book soars as a baby bird leaves the nest for the first time. Told only in rhyming single words, the story is about wings, flings, stings, dings and eventually sings, rings and zings! A baby bird tentatively heads to the edge of the nest and then flings themselves off. They land in a puddle on the ground. Drying off and checking for damage, they discover a worm on the ground. That inspires them to try to head back up to the nest to deliver the food to their siblings. But can they actually fly?

The simplicity of the book belies the skill that it took to create an actual story arc with so few words. The book works well with the bulk of the tale told in the illustrations by a master artist. DePaola has created bright and cheery artwork to accompany the story. Filled with pinks, blues and yellows, the vibrant colors bring a lot of life to the book.

Use this one when teaching about rhymes. It is just right for toddler audiences. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee

The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (9781554989799)

A little girl and her brother Charlie were staying with their grandparents for six days. On the first day, the spent time exploring the big old house. Then it started to rain. It rained the entire second day, as they continued to explore the house. It rained the entire third day, which they spent playing dress-up. The girl asked her grandfather, Big T, where the rain comes from. He promised to show her when the rain stopped and when they had found the biggest puddle. The next day, the sun was out and the children joined their grandfather outside. On their walk to find the biggest puddle, they explored small puddles, a stream, a pond and finally found the sea! Along the way, their grandfather explained the water cycle with evaporation, the clouds, rain and bodies of water.

Lee combines a science lesson with a fictional picture book very successfully here. The initial story of children visiting grandparents is filled with lovely moments of play and connection. The children may be bored at times, but they also find ways to spend their time even as rain comes down all around the house. When the sun returns, the world opens up to them and their adventures becomes less imagination and more real. The facts shared about the water cycle are shown as part of their walk and a natural conversation. Dion’s illustrations are light and filled with a sense of movement and air. The gray rainy days spent inside contrast beautifully with the sunshine of the outdoor pages.

A quiet picture book about family, weather and water. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley

mary wears what she wants by keith negley

Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (9780062846792)

Based on the real-life story of Mary Edwards Walker, who turned heads and drew ire when she dressed in pants mid-1800’s. This picture book shows a little girl of that time deciding to wear pants herself. The book firmly sets itself in the time period by explaining about societal expectations and the limitations that dresses placed on girls. The strong reaction of the townsfolk makes Mary question whether wearing pants is worth their anger. With her father’s support, she decides to continue wearing the clothes that make her happy. It turns out, she started a new trend!

Negley includes an author’s note that explains the story of the incredible Mary Edwards Walker who was also one of the first female doctors in the United States. The picture book focuses on gender expectations and how dressing as yourself is an important decision to make even if others in society don’t appreciate it. This is a strong statement for all youth and particularly for children who are gender nonconforming or transgender.

The art by Negley lifts the book into the modern era. Filled with bright colors and patterns, the illustrations have a great edge to them and a strong graphic quality. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that matches the tone of the book overall as well.

A great pick for discussions about gender expectations and clothing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat

My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat

My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781250140913)

When a little girl wakes up sick, she knows that her mother is going to take great care of her with a special brand of Mommy Medicine. There are kisses and hugs, massages and tickles. Then there are special treats like ice cream, tea, hot chocolate or soup. A bubbly bath is another form of medicine and then there are board games to play too. A quiet nap is a moment of quiet and then on to singing songs, silly dances, and playing pretend. Movies watched together and seeing stars before bed end the day spent together.

Danticat uses her own family as inspiration for this picture book using the phrase that her family used, “Mommy Medicine.” The book goes through each type of maternal love that can be shown on a sick day. Each one not only cares for the sick child but also builds the mother-child relationship stronger. Danticat also shares lots of details that bring the book fully to realization with lovely moments captured on each page.

Wright’s illustrations show a mother and daughter who shine with love for one another. They delight in their time together, coming up with ideas to share. Their home and time together is filled with warmth and visible joy, even on a day of illness.

A deep and comforting look at motherly love and how it can heal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: You Are Light by Aaron Becker

You Are Light by Aaron Becker

You Are Light by Aaron Becker (9781536201154)

Caldecott Honor winner Becker has created his first board book and what a beauty it is! The book almost glows with light and comes fully alive when raised toward the sun or a lamp where the colored circles shine. As the pages turn, light is celebrated. The way that it warms land, sips the sea, makes the rain, makes crops grow, and lights the moon. Particularly though, the light in each person is celebrated.

This board book is wonderfully simple and exceptionally designed. As pages turn, the primary colors overlap to form secondary colors and a complete rainbow, yet another way that light enters our lives. The poetry is effective and evocative, speaking to the power of light in our world. Still, it is the design and colors that truly make this book something particularly special.

Just right for learning colors and seeing a little one’s connection to the world. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick.

Review: New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft (9780062691200)

All Jordan wanted to do was go to art school, but instead his parents decided to send him to a private school full of opportunities for his future. Starting the school in seventh grade on financial aid, Jordan is also one of the only students of color there. Jordan is soon trying to figure out how to navigate from his Washington Heights neighborhood to the Riverdale Academy Day School. As he travels to school, he steadily changes his outfit to fit in more. He also does code switching to fit in better. Still, with some teachers it doesn’t work at all and they continually get his name wrong as well as that of other kids of color. As Jordan’s frustration grows, it shows in his art as he creates pointed social critiques of a school he is starting to really enjoy though he wonders if he will ever fit in.

This is one of the best books for middle school age that deals with microaggressions, bias, privilege, and racism. Given that it is a graphic novel too, that makes it all the more appealing as a source for discussion. Craft takes on all of these issues with a forthright tone, frustration and a willingness to engage. He doesn’t make all of the white people clueless, but many of them are just like in real life. Jordan’s struggle to codeswitch and fit in is beautifully conveyed in the art and story line.

Jordan serves as a catalyst in the school, crossing lines to make new friends, avoiding the school bully, and having serious conversations with other kids. At the same time, the book is filled with humor, which offsets the serious tone about racial and biased incidents which are never laughed off.  The inclusion of all sorts of pop culture references makes the book all the more fun to read.

A strong and compelling work of graphic fiction. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh

Maisie's Scrapbook by Samuel Narh

Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher (9781911373575)

Maisie is sad that she can’t play with the bull by the fence. After all, her father tells her tall tales about little girls who are heroes. As the seasons change, Maisie has characteristics that are similar to each season. She is as “relentless as spring rain.” In the summer, she sees turtles in the stars with her father and she is as bright as a summer day. Fall comes and Maisie is scared of the bull  in the field. Her parents love her in similar ways, making her food and spending time with her. She imagines that the rocking chair is a bull she can ride. In the winter, her parents play music together and Maisie is as pure as snow.

While the book follows the arc of the seasons, this picture book is less about seasons or a firm storyline and more about one little girl growing up beloved by her parents who come from different backgrounds and are of different races. The book highlights both the ways her parents are different from one another and the ways that they are the same. Love and food are very much the same while skills and languages are different. It’s a rich and personal look at a family.

The illustrations by Loring-Fisher are done in mixed media and have a feeling of collage combined with the softness of watercolors. The illustrations show the tales the Maisie’s father tells in all of the seasons, looking together into the sky to see the clouds and stars that paint the stories. From wide landscapes to intimate family scenes, this picture book invites readers to explore.

Warm, diverse and full of love, this picture book tells one little girl’s story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lantana Publishing.

 

Review: Climbing Shadows by Shannon Bramer

Climbing Shadows by Shannon Bramer

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children by Shannon Bramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby (9781773060958)

Poetry books for children can be some of the worst books on the market. There are some poets who do it extraordinarily well without being saccharine or sing-songy, and now there is a new name to add to that list. Open this book of poetry and you are suddenly in an unknown land. There are no rhymes, the words are evocative, and the thoughts and ideas fresh and amazing. My immediate response to reading the first poem was, “Is this for children?” I read it again. Yes, yes they certainly are. But they are poems that are complicated and deep, but well worth swimming in.

Bramer takes widely varied ideas like drawing pictures, spiders, skeletons, octopi, polka dots, birthday parties and owls and turns them into poems. The poems look beyond the obvious and turn into something far more than that original theme. The birthday poem is about storms and friendship. The one about an octopus is also about climbing trees. The poem about drawing is about roads, stars and lines. Each of them is a journey of discovery, one that makes sense by the end but is gorgeously surprising along the way.

The illustrations by Derby add so much to this book. They too are not what one might expect for a book of poetry for young children. The first poem is accompanied by a dark image of a glowing fox climbing the tree line drawn by a child. Her watercolor images range from gentle and achingly lovely to others that are dramatic and haunting.

One of the most original and surprising books of poetry for children, this one is worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.