Review: You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey

You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey

You Are Never Alone by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim (9781771473156)

The creators of You Are Stardust return with another book that demonstrates how interconnected we are. This time the focus is on the nature around all of us and how we are never alone in our environment. We can look into the eyes of a dog and feel love, we play in the mud and feel deep happiness thanks to microorganisms, we breathe oxygen that plants create. Nature is there in everything we do, everything we eat, and our connections can be as huge as a whale to as small as the organisms on our skin. We are never alone, because we are supported by this web of life that we too are a part of.

Kelsey’s words are poetic and moving. She points out immense connections to nature like the water cycle and oxygen cycle, then she moves to painting the personal connections to pets and also includes the smallest creatures we know of. It’s a beautiful way to view nature, as supportive and complex, something we must not only trust in but value enough to protect too.

The illustrations by Kim are spectacular. Done in multilayered paper collage, they seem lit from within and shine on the page. Kim plays with perspective and size in most of the illustrations, including fine line drawings, dancing paper leaves and branches, and children everywhere.

A gentle and inclusive look at nature and our world by two gifted children’s book creators. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Oink by David Elliot

Oink by David Elliot

Oink by David Elliot (9781776572144)

In this nearly wordless book, a little pig is getting ready for a nice calm bath all by himself. As he settles into the warm water, the door is opened by a sheep who brings a toy boat and climbs into the bath too. The next to enter is a cow, who asks the sheep if she can join and the sheep agrees. Cow brings a beach ball in, which bounces right off of the pig’s head. Then comes donkey who wears a floaty around his waist and hops into the bath too. The bath is noisy and crowded and not what pig wanted at all! What is a pig to do to find some peace?

The only words in this book are animal noises made by each of the critters. They use punctuation and emphasis to show what tone should be used when they are read aloud. It works very nicely. The book has a wonderful build up of frustration for the pig, as he gets more and more cross visually as the animals enter and the chaos increases. The humor of the solution is wonderfully timed and will have small children in stitches. Perhaps adding a little noise for that when sharing aloud would add to the fun.

A little fart of a book with lots of appeal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

Review: The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (9781984848789)

Beth died in a car accident and now her father is the only one who can see and hear her. He is struggling with his grief, and Beth knows that the best thing for him is to get back to work as a police detective and solve a mystery. Luckily, he is sent on what should be a simple case in a small Australian town. A dead body was found in the aftermath of a fire at a foster care home. But the mystery isn’t that simple as a witness comes forward and speaks to Beth and her father. The witness, Catching, tells an unbelievable tale of almost dying in a flood, her mother sacrificing herself, and then being taken by unusual beings to be fed upon. Still, Beth and her father realize that Catching is telling the truth if they can just figure out what that is and how it ties into the mystery itself.

This #ownvoices tale shares the dark truth of residential schools for Aboriginal children in Australia and the aftermath of entire lost generations. The authors create an amazing story by mixing modern police procedural with a ghost story that vividly shows Aboriginal storytelling and beliefs. The resulting book is one unlike anything you have read before.

From Catching’s poetic and disturbing tale of losing her colors and then finding a way back using the women in her family as points of strength to Beth’s own process of helping her father and then finding a way to let go to Crow’s story of truth and revenge, this is a book that celebrates the power of Aboriginal women to find their voices on the way to getting justice. The three Aboriginal young women at the heart of the book are studies in various kinds of strength, shining on the page and not allowing their light or colors to dim.

Unusual and incredibly powerful and moving, this genre-bending novel is one of a kind. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon (9781626723504)

Released May 16, 2019.

Two bugs happen upon the last peach of the summer, still hanging high in the peach tree. The two agree that is is the most beautiful peach they have seen that year. They decide to eat it immediately, until a grasshopper mentions that it must be the last peach of the season. They once again decide to go ahead and eat it. Then another insect says that it is probably rotten inside. The two go back and forth about whether to eat it. Maybe just one little bite? Maybe they should share it with everyone else? Maybe they should just leave it? Or perhaps each of them just wants it for their own. In the end, the two walk away from the glorious peach. But is it a peach after all?

Gordon is an Australian author and illustrator. Writing solely in dialogue in this picture book, he captures what friendship looks like with its give and take. He also shows how small decisions can become major friction in a friendship and how not to navigate those issues, since our bug friends get in a brawl because of it. This picture book reads aloud beautifully and could quickly be turned into a reader’s theater. The illustrations are done in collage that skillfully uses a variety of different types of paper that pops against the white background. The result is a minimalist feel with great pops of green and peachy colors. The twist at the end, revealed only in the illustrations adds a sense of delight to the entire book.

A tantalizing peach of a book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (9781620148372)

At birth, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. But as Aidan grew up, he didn’t like his name, the way his room was decorated, or wearing girl clothes. Aidan cut his hair off, realizing that he was a boy. He told his parents, and they learned from other families what having a transgender child is all about. Aidan picked his new name, they changed his bedroom into one that felt right, and he liked his new clothes. Then Aidan’s mother got pregnant. Aidan loved helping pick clothes for the baby, paint colors for the nursery, and even the baby’s name. But when people asked Aidan if he wanted a little brother or little sister, Aidan didn’t know how to answer. As the big day approached, Aidan worried about being a good big brother. Happily, his mother was there to explain that no matter who the new baby turned out to be, they would be so lucky to have Aidan as a brother.

Lukoff has created an #ownvoices picture book that truly celebrates a child who deeply understands their gender identity to be different from the one they were assigned at birth. The reaction of the supportive parents is beautiful to see in a picture book format as they work with Aidan not only to be able to express himself fully but also to be able to work through natural fears with a new baby. Those fears and the inevitable discussions of gender of a baby are vital parts of the story and allow readers to realize how deeply ingrained gender is in so many parts of our lives.

The illustrations by Juanita are full of energy and show a child with a flair for fashion who expresses himself clearly as a boy. His facial expressions change from his deep unhappiness when he is being treated as a girl to delight at being able to express himself as the boy he truly is. The depiction of a loving family of color handling these intersectionality issues so lovingly is also great to see.

As the parent of a transgender person, this is exactly the sort of picture book our families need and other families must read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.

Review: Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist (9781773061498)

Adrian doesn’t fit in at school. Bullied by some of the kids in the schoolyard, he spends his time in class hoping not to be called on. When he is, his heart pounds and his mind goes blank. He can’t answer even the easiest of questions out loud. He spends lunch alone and his recess dangling from tree branches. On his way home, he does head stands and walks on his hands. At home, his father works early and his mother works late, Then Adrian meets Heidi, a large wolfhound, who bonds with him immediately. The two of them spend all of their time together, she even goes with him to school. With Heidi at his side, Adrian doesn’t need to worry about bullies and he can focus in class and answer questions. But Heidi was someone else’s dog, and eventually Heidi found her owner again. Adrian was left alone again, missing Heidi dreadfully. Until Heidi found him again too. Adrian got to meet Heidi’s owner, and discovered a world of tightropes and performances.

This unique and fascinating book explores the life of a lonely boy who is different than the other children. He is quiet, unpopular and prone to anxiety, and yet he is also brave as he swings from tree branches and does hand stands on ledges. The text in the book is minimal with many of the pages showing only the illustrations and not having any words on them. The words often downplay the emotions that Adrian is feeling, though after he loses Heidi, his grief is palpable in both words and illustrations.

The illustrations are truly the heart of the book. They move from multi-paneled pencil drawings to full two-page paintings. The pencil drawings show Adrian’s everyday life while the large illustrations capture his emotions with a lush clarity. The small moments captured in Adrian’s day make up his life, one after another, small and yet also meaningful.

An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.

Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third

Vamos Let's Go to the Market by Raul the Third

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third (9781328557261)

The Pura Belpré Award-winning illustrator of Lowriders in Space returns with his first picture book. Little Lobo takes his dog Bernabe along as he delivers supplies around the market to different vendors. After Kooky Dooky wakes them up in the morning, the wagon is loaded and they head into town. Everyone there has a different job and on the bustling pages, readers can take a look at what different creatures in town are doing. As Little Lobo makes his way past the various stalls, readers get to see inside them even if they don’t have a delivery that day. There are vendors of comic books, puppets, hats, herbs, food and more. At the end of the day, Lobo delivers golden laces to the final vendor and discovers that his favorite luchadore is actually there!

Told in an engaging mix of Spanish and English, the picture book also has Spanish labels for different items in the picture and English translations to Spanish sentences at the bottom of the page. The entire book invites readers to try reading English and Spanish as they explore the market. The use of a strong structure like delivering packages allows the images to be more free flowing without losing the story line.

The pace of the book is brisk and yet readers will need to linger over the illustrations and explore them fully. They have the busy nature of a Richard Scarry with a modern feel. Exploring the various animals on the page is great fun as is looking at the smaller stories being told in images only as Lobo goes through the market.

A top pick for this year, every library should have this rich and vibrant book. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes

The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes

The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes (9781541555099)

At night, the Night Bear takes the night bus and heads out searching for his favorite nighttime meal, nightmares. Each type of nightmare tastes different from the others, but equally delicious. “Monsters with hideous eyes taste like burgers and fries.” “Scary pirates being mean taste like strawberries and cream.” On and on the Night Bear munches until he comes to one package of dreams he thinks is completely disgusting! It’s rainbows and unicorns, ick! So the Night Bear heads out to see if he can give it to a dreamer. He discovers a child who is awake in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and exchanges his awful unicorns for the child’s spiders and snakes (that taste like chocolate cake!)

The rhyming here is what makes the book a great success. It has a wonderful galloping pace as well as being filled with delicious surprises as each nightmare has a distinct and fully-described flavor. That pace nicely slows as the bear looks for a child to share the unicorns with and then picks up again at the end. The illustrations are filled with deep colors of night and vivid depictions of the various nightmares combined with the flavors they have.

Whether you find nightmares or rainbows delicious, this book is just the right flavor. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Andersen Press.

Review: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (9780062747808)

Jude lives in Syria with her beloved older brother and her parents. As her older brother gets involved in the political battles around them, her parents decide that it is too dangerous for Jude and her pregnant mother to stay in Syria. So Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with Jude’s uncle. America is very different than Syria, much louder and faster, and filled with a language that Jude barely understands. As Jude gets acclimated to living in the United States, she steadily makes new friends along the way. Her love of movies and desire to perform lead her to audition for the school musical. But when the attacks of 9-11 occur, the country that Jude has grown comfortable in changes to be more hostile to Muslims. Jude needs to rediscover what she loves about both Syria and the United States, her two homes.

This novel is written in verse, making for a very readable work. Told in Jude’s voice, the poetry allows readers to see how she feels about leaving Syria, how lost she feels when she comes to Cincinnati, and how she starts to find her way. The importance of English Language Learner classes are emphasized, both in learning the language but also in finding a group of friends. Jude also finds friends in other ways, connecting over shared cultures and shared interests.

Jude’s voice is vital to find in a middle grade novel. My favorite chapters are where Jude gets angry and voices her pain at the injustice of being labeled in a certain way, feared because of her religion, judged because of her headscarf. Those moments are powerful and raw, ringing with truth on the page.

Beautifully written with an amazing Syrian heroine at its center, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.