Category: Book Reviews

3 Very Friendly New Picture Books

Can I Be Your Dog By Troy Cummings

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings (9780399554520)

Arfy is a dog looking for a home, so he writes to each house and business on Butternut Street. One by one though, they each say no. The Honeywells have a cat that’s allergic to dogs. The butcher thinks Arfy might steal too many meatballs. The fire station already has a dog. The junkyard just sends a nasty note back. And no one is living in the abandoned house. But as she delivered each of Arfy’s notes, the letter carrier made her own decision. The book ends with tips on how children can help animals who need a home. The use of letters adds a real appeal to this book as Arfy so politely asks for space and then is turned down with a variety of responses, some friendly, some rude and others businesslike. The book will work well for children learning to write letters who need a great model like Arfy to follow. The appealing artwork adds a playful feel and readers will recognize that Arfy has a friend in the letter carrier from the start. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House and Edelweiss.)

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld and Philip Hopman (9780802854896)

When Bobbi and William have an argument, William shouts that Bobbi should just get on his bike and leave. So that’s exactly what Bobbi does. Bobbi’s head is filled with anger at first and he doesn’t notice what is around him. But as he rides through town and out into the country, he begins to notice things around him. At each stoplight, Bobbi makes a choice of where to head. Sometimes traffic is loud and busy and other times Bobbi is alone in nature. As he rides, his thoughts move from the fight to his surroundings and he notices more and more. His ride brings him full circle back home, where William is waiting for him with dinner already made, cold but not ruined.

This picture book was originally published in the Netherlands and one can see their cycling culture strongly in the images. In most of the images, the roads are crowded with bikes which share the road with the cars and trucks. The story subtly moves through anger and shows a way of coping that allows a natural  move from frustration and anger to returning to oneself. The illustrations show a world populated with animals rather than people. Bobbi himself is a panda and William is a bulldog. There are birds, alligators, mice and more riding bikes, driving trucks and walking the towns. Refreshing and friendly, this picture book takes a look at anger and cooling down. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. Jack is a monkey who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own making. Accompanied by two other characters, Rex the dog and The Lady, Jack steals the lady’s purse in the first chapter. He returns the purse, but soon Jack and Rex are sporting the lipstick that Jack took! When he returns the red lipstick to The Lady, Jack still has one more trick up his sleeve. Young readers will enjoy the naughtiness of Jack and how he manages to make friends and feel sorry and yet still be entirely himself in the end. The writing is simple and friendly for the earliest readers who will also appreciate the chapter book format. Pizzoli’s art is simple and bright. At the end of the book he offers a tutorial of how to draw each of the characters, inviting children to create their own pictures and stories. A great pick for early readers and early reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.)

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (9780735232112)

This strong and intense verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter born in sixteenth-century Rome. This fictional account is based on her true story of working in her father’s art studio and becoming more skilled than him in her late teens. As her father brought in a teacher for her, Artemisia first enjoyed his company and then it became something else entirely. Raped by her teacher, Artemisia has to decide whether to stay silent or try to fight back in the limited ways that she could. With her dead mother’s stories of two strong women from history to inspire her, Artemisia did accuse her rapist and found justice hard to come by but worth fighting for.

Told in Artemisia’s own voice, this verse novel is entirely captivating. Firmly feminist in tone and content, the reader learns not only of Artemisia but also of Judith and Susanna, two historical figures who found their own way to justice. Perfectly timed with the #MeToo movement, this novel calls for women to understand their own strength and find their own voices.

Throughout the book, even with the anger and aggravating unfairness of the time, the book has beautifully soft moments filled with art and creativity. Yet it is firmly footed in reality and doesn’t sugarcoat or turn away from impossible choices, horrible violence, and the importance of strength even when you feel weakest.

A necessary and vital call to action, this book shows that women have stood up all the way through history and their voices will not be ignored. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.

3 New Picture Books to Count On

Ducks Away by Mem Fox

Ducks Away! By Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek (9781338185669)

A mother duck crosses a bridge with her ducklings, all five of them! But then one of the little ducks is blown off of the bridge and down into the water below. Mother Duck doesn’t know what to do with four ducklings on the bridge and one down in the water. Then one by one, the other little ducks tumble down to the water. Finally, all five are floating below and they encourage their mother to join them and take the jump herself. This playful counting book merrily counts up to five in a natural way, then counts both up and down as ducklings move from bridge to water. It all feels so much a part of the story thanks to the subtle rhyme structure and the rhythms deftly created by Fox. The illustrations continue the simplicity of the text, and are just right to share with a group or with one child. A picture book you can count on! Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Everybunny Count By Ellie Sandall

Everybunny Count! By Ellie Sandall (9781534400146)

As the foxes and bunnies play together, they decide that today is the day for hide-and-seek. They count up to ten and then as they search, the counting begins again. They steadily count up to ten once more, giving young listeners objects to count on each page. When the bunnies finally find Fox, he has a surprise for them! One that will help them count all the way to ten again. Sandall’s picture book has a freshness and a lightness that is very welcome. The incorporation of so much counting in a single book adds to the fun as do the personalities of each of the animals. A counting delight. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Shake the Tree by Chiara Vignocchi

Shake the Tree by Chiara Vignocchi, Paolo Chiarinotti and Silvia Borando (9780763694883)

This bright and active picture book is just right for sharing aloud. When Mouse discovers a nut high in a tree, she tries shaking the tree to get it to fall down to her. She shakes it a little to the left and right, but the nut doesn’t budge. A fox though falls down out of the tree and wants to eat the Mouse who scampers up into the tree’s branches. So the Fox shakes the tree, but the Mouse and the nut do not fall down, instead a Warthog comes down and Fox runs up the tree to escape. When Bear falls down next, he really shakes the tree a lot. All of the animals fall down to the ground along with the nut. What will Bear do now?

Shared aloud, the reader will be shaking the tree and the book back and forth. This book could so easily help with concepts of right and left, particularly if you made the story time interactive and the children helped “shake” the tree too. The book also has a clever way to incorporate counting with each animal adding a shake each time they try. It counts up without actually counting, making it a book that has a natural rhythm and appeal. The illustrations add to this with their bright colors and the large animals tumbling from the tree. Funny and a great read-aloud add this one to your next story time on trees or counting. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao (9781481499101)

Mei is a freshman at MIT. Her Taiwanese-American parents have decided that she will become a doctor, though Mei tends to be a bit freaked out by germs. They also want her only to marry a Taiwanese boy selected by them. As Mei chafes under their expectations and excessive attention, she starts to date a Japanese-American boy at MIT. But her brother was kicked out of the family for dating a girl her parents didn’t approve of, so she has to keep him secret. She is also keeping her love for dancing and her dream of owning a dance studio from her parents. And when she starts to see her brother again, she also can’t tell them that. As Mei’s lies and secrets grow larger, it becomes inevitable that they will topple over and the truth will come out. But what does that mean for her relationship with her parents and extended family, going to MIT and her own dreams?

Chao has created a book that she needed as a teenager, one that reflects the deep-seated expectations of a family. At times, the reactions and actions of the family are horrifying, including the put downs of Mei, the disowning of children, and the expectation that the parents’ opinions are all that matter in every scenario. And still, readers will see the love shine through since Chao allows spaces to form that give Mei and her family hope for reconciliation in the future.

The book is masterfully written allowing readers to see culture as both a foundation but also as a constricting world at times. She imbues the entire novel with humor, since Mei is funny and smart, seeing the world through her own unique lens. The messages from Mei’s mother pop up between chapters, offering their own moments of laughter. The steady growth of connection between Mei and her mother is one of the most vital parts of the book, as Mei’s discovery of her own voice allows her mother to step forward too.

A book that belongs in all public libraries, this novel will speak universally to all teenagers looking to make their own paths. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.)


3 New Picture Books Full of Compassion

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781626723214)

When Tanisha spilled grape juice on her dress, the others in class laughed at her until she ran out of the room. But one child doesn’t laugh and tries to make her feel better by saying that they love the color purple too. That child narrates the book and wonders what the kind thing or better thing to do would have been. Maybe kindness is giving? Or could it be helping? Is it paying attention? Using people’s names? It can be hard to be kind, to stand up to others, to be the lone voice. And sometimes, kindness is sitting near someone quietly and then showing without words that you understand. Miller explore kindness in a way that children will understand and offers them questions rather than simple solutions so they can explore the idea themselves. The art in the picture book is nicely done, incorporating children of different races in the classroom. The ambiguous gender of the main character is also welcome. This is a book that invites conversation about kindness and compassion. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Chinese Emperor_s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine

Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts (9781419725425)

This picture book is a twist on the traditional tale, this time with the emperor being part of the trick rather than solely the tailors. When young emperor Ming Da discovers that his advisors are stealing from him, he comes up with a clever way to expose their misdeeds. Enlisting the help of his tailors, Ming Da dresses in burlap sacks, telling his advisors that they only look like sacks to those who are dishonest, otherwise they look like the finest silks. The three advisors soon have their own sacks to wear in the entourage, since they can’t admit their dishonesty. With a focus on helping the poor and being honest, this picture book is an engaging twist on the original. The illustrations pay homage to the Chinese setting by incorporating more formal framing at times. Look for small creatures watching the action along with the reader and the looks of delight as the tailors trap the advisors in their lies. A great book to share aloud, with a young hero who puts others before himself. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten

 The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten (9780802854858)

This French import is a strange and haunting picture book. When Stag finds Rabbit left on his doorstep, he takes Rabbit in and raises him. They laugh together and feel each other’s pain. They race home and Stag always lets Rabbit win. Rabbit worries that Stag won’t always be there and Stag knows that Rabbit with grow up and eventually leave. Then one day, that happens. Rabbit is alone in the woods and meets two others, a Cat who loves soccer and a Warrior who is very angry. The three of them adventure together and form a family of sorts, eventually they all become more honest about who they are. Still, there is a shadow lingering nearby, one that has been in Rabbit’s story since the beginning. Can that Shadow help bring Stag and Rabbit together again?

Told with such heart and beauty, this picture book is a very different read. It is about family and adoption, but also reaches beyond that to the struggle of growing up and being independent, yet the homesickness and longing for people you love. It’s a deep picture book, that reaches into dark corners and reveals that shadows can actually protect and guard. It’s a book that shows that the universe can revolve around love and still allow exploration, new friends and wonder. The illustrations are playful at times, dark with worry at others, and exploding with joy too. Emotions are not only depicted by the characters but embraced by the entire color palette too.

One of those wonderful picture book imports that will blow your mind. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.

Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.

Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

3 New Animal Picture Books to Love

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino (9781626729087)

This poetic picture book dreams of having a horse. The entire book is dreamy and soft, a more spiritual and sense-filled look at horses than the reality of barns and saddles. In the images, the little girl meets a horse in a field and offers him the largest apple she can find. There are moments of shyness and quiet as the two meet. They admire one another’s qualities of strength and gentleness. The little girl does ride the horse but not so easily until they become better friends. Then they head out together to meet other horses. The illustrations are done entirely in silhouettes filled with rich watercolor washes. The hair of the little girl mirrors that of the horse’s mane and also the blades of grass in the field around them. A beautiful dream of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Many The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies

Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (9780763694838)

This picture book invites readers to think about the wide amount of diversity in the animals and plants that live on our planet. The book offers a small scientific facts on some pages, giving a closer look at things like mushrooms, microbes, elephants, and habitats. The book moves on to fill pages with images of different types of animals, one fascinating two-page spread has animals that were discovered in the last 50 years. It also explores food cycles for several different species. The book ends with information on how humans are negatively impacting species in the world and encourages children to be aware of how they can make a difference. Filled with interesting facts and vibrant illustrations, this picture book is an invitation to explore nature even further. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Trio The Tale of a Three-Legged Cat by Andrea Wisnewski

Trio: The Tale of a Three-Legged Cat by Andrea Wisnewski (9781567926088)

Trio was a cat born with only three legs. Even though he was missing a hind leg, he still managed to fully explore the chicken coop that he lived in with his siblings and a flock of chickens. Trio liked to explore the world like a chicken would with dust baths and eating bugs. But he could not lay an egg like they did. When Trio finally got all the way up to the nesting boxes, he found that it was warm and cozy there. One day, Trio found an egg in the nest, one that cracked and moved. It eventually hatched into a very special chick. Told in the simplest of sentences, this picture book is filled with a warmth and strong sense of style. The story is based on a real cat who has three legs, though he may not have hatched a chick of his own yet. The illustrations are done in gorgeous paper cuts, that evoke the feeling of woodblock printing. With their organic feel, they add to the friendly warmth of the book. A lovely and accepting look at being differently abled. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)