Little Mole’s Wish by Sang-Keun Kim (9780525581345)
Little Mole was heading home alone on the first day of snow, when he met a snowball on the path. He brought the snowball along with him to the bus stop. He waited for a bus, but the driver wouldn’t let him on with a snowball. So Little Mole sculpted the snowball into a bear. But the next driver realized it was still a snowball. So Little Mole gave the snow bear a backpack. The two waited a very long time together for the next bus, long enough that Little Mole shared his hat in case the bear was cold. That bus allowed them both to board. On the warm bus, Little Mole fell asleep and when he woke up his friend was gone. The bus driver urged him to head home, saying his friend must have gotten off at another stop. Little Mole got home and told his grandmother all about his day. When he went to bed, he wondered where his friend had gone. In the morning, his grandmother called him with a big surprise!
There is so much magic about this picture book that was originally published in South Korea. Little Mole is an entirely winning character who problem solves along the way, creating a bear just as charming as he is. The words and illustrations work seamlessly together here as Little Mole builds a friend from snow. Readers will have a series of surprises as the book goes on, including the two riding the bus together and then the final surprise that ensures everyone will know that wishes come true.
Kim’s illustrations are soft and dreamy, done in colored pencil, pastel, pen and digital. They are full of small touches that bring the entire world to life with an owl sleeping in the hollow tree, Mole having a similar teddy bear to the bear he builds from snow, and each bus matching its driver in design, including the final bus having deer antlers.
A perfect read for the first snow. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
River by Elisha Cooper (9781338312263)
Explore the Hudson River alongside an intrepid canoer in this picture book. The book takes readers from a mountain lake on a journey of 300 miles to where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. The woman meets moose, otters, a bear cub, ducks and more on her journey. She faces rapids and sometimes has to drag her canoe in shallow waters or portage it across a dam. She uses a lock to get past a waterfall. She stops at times to restock her supplies at towns along the river. She paddles for days and days, sleeping in a tent at night. She faces a storm and has her boat overturned, but she eventually reaches New York City and her home.
There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime. At the same time, this is a quiet book, one that inspires thinking, drawing and taking time for one’s self. It’s a lovely balance of a book, and thanks to Cooper’s unique style it is told in a way that honors the woman’s courage and skill and yet makes it all less daunting to imagine doing. It’s just what we want picture books to do for children.
Cooper’s art really shines here, reading more like a journal at times with scenes just barely captured before they changed. Other pages which feature the landscape and vistas along the way are spectacularly done whether in broad daylight or filled with stars at night.
A journey worth taking again and again. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (9780374309527)
Allie has grown up with Islamophobia aimed at her father because of the way he looks. She’s learned how to use her own lighter skin and red hair to intervene. She has lived all over the United States due to her father’s job as a professor, so she’s also learned how to quickly fit in with her peers too. As Allie starts to date Wells, a boy in her new school, she is also getting more interested in learning about being a Muslim. Allie’s father isn’t a practicing Muslim and has strong feelings about Allie starting to pray and learning Arabic. When Allie discovers that Wells’ father is one of the biggest TV bigots, particularly about Muslims, she must start to make choices about whether to speak out or continue to blend in.
Courtney’s writing is fresh and blunt. She takes on racism directly from the very first scene in the book and then uses that as a way to start a dialogue inside her book about how best to address overt and casual racism that one encounters throughout their life. Allie learning about her religion allows readers to learn alongside her. The study group discussions she participates in also show the wide ranging views of Muslims, both liberal and more conservative.
The exploration of one’s response to hate speech and bumbling attempts at support is explored through Allie. Allie’s character is learning about herself, both through her religion and outside of it. She’s figuring out her own boundaries, rather than those of her religion or her family. It’s a true coming-of-age tale, readers watch Allie develop in a way that makes leaps at times, but is always organic and honest.
Filled with opportunities to learn, this novel takes on racism. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (9781624147654)
Liam’s father was a sailor who always brought back stories of his time a sea. Liam loved the way his father’s stories could transport him. But when his father didn’t return from a voyage, Liam lost the ability to connect with stories any longer. It wasn’t until an unusual man with an amazing multi-colored beard arrived on a ship that Liam heard stories that could compare with his father’s. The man asked for a volunteer to accompany him on his next journey, and out of a crowd of people, he selected Liam. The two traveled together with the man showing Liam how to listen and how to see things. After some time together, the man reached the end of his travels and offered Liam a gift, a gift of stories and storytelling.
Davison celebrates the power of stories and storytelling in this picture book. She explores how important stories are to create connection and then how dark life can be when that bridge of stories is gone. The traveler is an interesting character with his gift of stories but also his touch of magic, his multi-colored beard telling the tales along with him. Seen as strange by some but awe-inspiring for someone like Liam who uses stories as a language.
The illustrations use color very cleverly. Liam goes from a life of full color to one of grays, blacks and whites, his world tinged with grief and loss. Everyone around him to are in muted colors, except for the Traveler, who arrives with his bright beard of greens, reds and yellows that offer space for stories to appear. At the end of the book, readers will see the gift of stories pass to Liam with a transfer of the colors as well. It’s beautifully and touching.
A great story all about the power of stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Page Street Kids.
Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn (9781632172228)
Growing up in Yamhill, Oregon, Beverly spent her days on the family farm with animals for friends. She only had two books growing up, so she made up her own stories instead. When her mother got a children’s library created in Yamhill, Beverly finally had access to more stories. After moving to Portland, Beverly started school, determined to learn to read in class. Numbers were easy for her, but reading was hard. It didn’t help when she had to stay out of school for weeks due to smallpox. It wasn’t until the following year that she got a teacher who put in extra effort with Beverly to help her learn to read. Soon she was writing too and eventually became a librarian. When Beverly heard children asking for stories about kids like them, she was inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books!
Conrad has created an engaging biography where readers can see Cleary’s inspiration from her own childhood reflected in her books for children. The difficulty that Cleary had learning to read is shown in great detail, echoing the immense effort it took to learn. It is inspirational for children who may be having difficulty learning to read to see someone who eventually became one of the most famous children’s authors of all time having the same problems.
The art by Hohn is bright and friendly. The use of period clothing really helps place the book in the past visually and keeps the bright-eyed Beverly from feeling too modern. It also shows the great sense of humor that Cleary had throughout her life.
An inspiring story of triumph and achievement. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (9781481480390)
Pokko’s quiet frog parents had made a big mistake giving her the drum. When they tried to discuss it together, they couldn’t hear themselves. So Pokko’s father sends her outside with the drum, asking her to play quietly and not draw attention from anyone. So Pokko heads out quietly. The forest is very quiet, too quiet. So Pokko starts to play her drum. Another animal joins in and follows Pokko. More animals join until they have a parade of music. Back home, it’s lunch time. Pokko’s father listens for her and faintly hears music that is coming closer. He’s about to discover that Pokko can really play that drum!
Forsythe has created a book that is a complete delight. While telling the story of the rather loud and very brave Pokko, he also gives readers moments where the story pauses. These are moments like seeing other gifts Pokko’s parents have given her, like the slingshot and the llama. Forsythe isolates these moments giving them entire pages and time to have real impact. The same happens when Pokko must confront the fox who is eating others in the band. The overall storytelling is just as strong, offering a folktale feel with a modern twist.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. They have a gorgeous sunlit quality to them that is saturated and rich. They use patterns and colors to great effect as well.
Unique and lovely, this is one to beat the drum for! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (9781368048088)
Lyric, Maine was the ancestral home of Violet’s family, established by her great-great-great-grandmother who survived a shipwreck. Now Violet has been sent there after a wreck of her own, created when she partied too much and almost lost her brother Sam to suicide. Stuck in the small town, she finds a volunteer job at the local aquarium. That’s where she meets Orion, a gorgeous boy her age who knows all about marine life and how to run the cash register, skills that Vi can only dream of having. Orion’s best friend is Liv, who happens to be obsessed with the Lyric shipwreck and can’t wait to meet Violet, a direct descendant. Things get more complicated as Violet tries to help Liv and Orion move forward in a romantic way, Violet tries to avoid romance herself and along the way makes the best friends of her life.
I must admit this was one of the hardest books to summarize. There is so much here that all fits so beautifully into the novel but can’t be easily explained. There is the power of music, the impact of nature, the importance of dreams, the vitality of connection to one another, and the continued reverberation of loss and grief. All of that is here in these pages, written so beautifully that it aches. There are some cliches like Violet shaving her head, but those disappear into the richness of the book, becoming references and anchors to other stories rather than taking up too much space here.
The writing is exquisite, the emotions on the page are allowed to be raw but also often are hidden from view behind banter or fights about other things. Violet’s bisexuality is shown organically and openly, something that is simply there and innately understood by the reader. Mental illness is treated much the same way with panic attacks, depression, and anxiety all included in the story, important to the plot, but never gawked at.
Beautiful, powerful and full of feeling, this book is amazing. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim Lamarche (9781534429796)
The narrator of this book, a young girl, longs to see a puma before they disappear entirely. There have been reports about sightings near her gram’s home. Puma kittens were found in a barn, pumas have stalked horses, and been seen dozing on a tree limb. But the girl has never seen one herself. So she spends her allowance on a fifty-pound salt lick that she put out in the field. Other animals visit the salt lick, including deer, cattle, elk, but no puma appears. The salt lick dwindles down. There are signs of a puma in the area, large paw marks left in wet dirt. Then one day at breakfast, the girl feels a prickle and looks behind her and there at the salt lick is a puma in the golden morning light.
Johnston writes in poetry in this picture book. She paints entire pictures with her words, sharing the delicate balance in nature where a species is on the decline. She shares the young narrator’s wistfulness and wonder at the puma, dreaming along with her about its life and what it is doing right then. The amazement and delight when the puma finally appears is so satisfying after the longing she has conveyed on all of the previous pages.
Lamarche’s illustrations are exceptional. They capture the landscape of grassland and mountains, illuminated by the time of day with the colors of dawn or the golden light of evening. The setting is depicted so clearly that one could almost walk to the salt lick from the house. He also shows the little girl and her gram in the images, living in connection with the land around them. The beauty of the hidden puma is also there, sometimes featured on the page and other times elusive but there.
A gorgeous picture book about dreams, plans and patience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (9781534411333)
Amy can do a lot of things like brush her teeth and tie her shoes. But the one thing she can’t do is make the perfect bao, a steamed dumpling. So she sets out one day to make the perfect bao. It’s an all-day effort by her entire family. Her father makes the bao dough, and Amy helps him pound the dough and let it rise. Her mother makes the filling, and Amy helps her too. Then everyone sits down at the table to form the bao, including Amy’s grandmother. When things don’t go right for Amy, everyone offers her advice on how to do it. That’s when Amy realizes that the dough has been cut for adult hands. When her grandmother cuts the dough into smaller pieces for Amy, suddenly she too can make perfect bao! In the end though, all of the bao, perfect or not, taste delicious.
Zhang takes the universal story of a young person not being as good at something as they want to be and wraps it in a delicious bao package. Readers are invited into Amy’s Chinese-American home and she leads readers through the process of making bao. The frustrations of learning and perfecting a process are openly shared. The discovery that Amy makes that solves the problem is nicely portrayed as well and I appreciate that the child is the one who realizes her own solution.
The art by Chua is wonderfully bright and vivacious. Amy is shown as an optimist throughout, even as she is trying to brush her teeth and tie her shoes at the same time. The backgrounds in the illustrations suit the mood of the moment, moving from gold to orange to blue.
A tasty treat of a book that will leave readers hungry for more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.