Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

Jen didn’t want to move out of the city and onto a farm with her mother, leaving her father behind. She particularly doesn’t enjoy her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, who is always telling her how she should act. On the farm, Jen does love the hayloft with its privacy and kittens. She’s not quite sure about the chickens at first until she meets the fuzzy chicks, but even then taking care of them is a pain! When Walter’s two daughters come to visit on weekends, it’s particularly hard. The girls work at the farm’s stall at the market, selling berries, granola and flowers. But Andy, the oldest daughter, is bossy and constantly putting Jen down. Jen would much rather be drawing in her notebook than doing math at the market. Being a new family is hard, but small steps make big connections.

Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novelists. It is great to see her returning to graphic novels for children. She captures the emotions of being young with such empathy, valuing the perspective of her characters. She also allows her young characters to find their own way forward, the adults around and causing problems at times. Here it is figuring out how to be potential step-siblings while wrestling with a new life in the country, and a frog too.

Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction. As always, her illustrations are clear, funny and full of great moments.

Full of fresh air, chickens, garden-rampaging deer, and a complicated family, this graphic novel is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott

In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)

Enter the woods through this book of poetry for children. The picture book volume shares insight into the different animals living in the woods. First is the musky bear, emerging from his den in the early spring. The red fox also appears in the melting snow, hunting to feed her kits. A scarlet tanager flashes past announcing spring alongside the cowslips. Soon the grass greens, the opossum and her babies bumps along with skunks and their perfume too. Porcupine and fisher cat are also there, quiet and fierce. Hornets buzz in the air while millipedes munch on rotting leaves. Moose, beaver, turkey, raccoon, bobcat and more appear here, each with their own poem that eventually has winter returning with deer appearing ghostlike through the snow storm.

Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages. The focus is not the seasons though but the animals themselves. Some get longer poems while others get a couple of lines that capture them beautifully. There is a sense that Elliott is getting to the essence of many of the creatures he is writing about here. Each poem is focused and very accessible for children.

Dunlavey’s illustrations in watercolor and mixed media are rendered digitally. Their organic feel works well with the subject matter. Each creature is shown in their habitat and turning the pages feels like rounding a new corner on a walk in the woods.

A poetic journey through the forest that is worth taking. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Hurry Up! by Kate Dopirak

Hurry Up by Kate Dopirak

Hurry Up! by Kate Dopirak, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781534424975)

A child with wild black hair wakes up to a ringing alarm clock, rushes down the stairs and off to the school bus. At school everyone continues to rush and hurry throughout their day, until they hurry back onto the bus. The child rushes home, dashes through their homework, and then hurries to walk the dog. Stop! Slow down and look around at the day. Spend time with your dog and take a breath. Stay out until the stars emerge, find fireflies, and then head home. The rush is done.

Dopirak creates a breathless beginning to her book that is impossible to read without your heart rate increasing a bit. The hurried and harried life of this child reflects many of our own. The slower part is just as successful, encouraging the character and the reader to breathe and slow down. The abrupt STOP! is very effective in changing the pace and insisting upon a new one.

Neal’s illustrations provide us with a young protagonist who could be any gender. With a shock of wild hair that captures the frenzy of the early part of the book, this character is central to the story and manages to slow down and point out the small things that make a day special.

Trying to slow down to pandemic speed? This picture book shows alone time outside as one of the best times of day. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.

Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness (9780062869494)

Sarah and her father are meeting the dragon he hired to help clear fields on their farm. Sarah has been forbidden to talk to the dragon, and even more forcefully reminded not to tell it her name. But Sarah can’t think of the dragon as an it. The dragon is remarkable, even though he is a smaller blue dragon. As the dragon, Kazamir, and Sarah get to know one another, they must face the hatred of a local deputy along with Sarah’s boyfriend Jason. Sarah and Jason are the only people of color in town, something that gets unwelcome attention in 1957. But Sarah doesn’t know what Kazamir does, that she is part of a prophecy. The prophecy is also what is drawing an assassin from a dragon worshiping cult towards her. Malcolm is hunting her, but also being trailed by the FBI. As he approaches, he leaves a trail of bodies but also finds himself unexpectedly in love for the first time. As the moment of the prophesy nears, everything is in place but for what?

Ness as always surprises and amazes in this new novel. His world building is remarkable, combining alternative history of the late 1950’s with fantasy into a world that is entirely believable. The novel is layered and complex, becoming even more so as it continues. The book incorporates marvelous science fiction elements as well as it builds, burning hotter and hotter, making its title all the more appropriate.

Ness’ characters are just as complicated as his plot and world building. He spends time making each of the three protagonists fascinating. There is Sarah, a girl who may or may not be trapped in a prophecy but certainly is caught in poverty and yet will not give up. Malcolm may have grown up in a cult and be there weapon of destruction, but new love is a power thing, something that can change a destiny. Kazamir, the dragon, is someone readers will adore from his first sarcastic comment and quirked eyebrow.

Brilliantly built, layered and populated, this is a new world created by a master. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.

A Bunch of Board Books

Here are some great recently-released board books to embrace this summer:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky (9780593110416)

To raise an antiracist baby, you must understand that’s it’s all about showing them that society can transform. This is not a space to be neutral, but one to be an activist. This board book explores what it takes to raise a child who is not racist in our society. First, see all skin colors, don’t be artificially color-blind. Second, talk about race. Third, politics are the problem, not people. Fourth, there is nothing wrong with people, no matter their race, sex, gender, orientation or faith. Fifth, celebrate differences. This book continues through number none which is believing that we can overcome racism. With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (9781534464995)

Join in the happiness of a pride parade in this counting board book. There is one parade in June with two DJs playing music. Three families, four activists, five motorcycles. Six floats go by with seven divas posing. Eight signs are held high with nine people standing together in unity. The final ten are people waving a variety of pride flags. Incredibly inclusive, this board book welcomes everyone to pride parades and celebrations with open arms. The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Simon. 

Wake Up, Let's Play by Marit Tornqvist

Wake Up, Let’s Play by Marit Tornqvist (9781782506263)

This dreamy board book invites children to join in the fun that two friends find together. They play all sorts of things, like birthday party and restaurant. They build sandcastles and play stormy seas in the bath. Busy towns with wooden tracks fill the room, and sometimes art wanders onto the walls. They play through snow and even into the night. Then it’s time to figure out what to play tomorrow! Told in very simple sentences, this board book has marvelous illustrations that are quirky and fantastical. At the same time, these are exactly the games that small children play, so it is rooted in reality. A marvel of a little book.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Floris Books.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann (9781536207361)

The little girl narrating this picture book has never been camping before. So she is very excited when her Aunt Jackie and cousin Samantha ask her to come. She just knows that she is going to love it. She packs using a list from her aunt, then leaves her father behind and heads out on the journey to the camp site. It’s a long drive to Cedar Tree Campground. When they reach it is it big and quiet with lots of trees and a lake. They set up camp, then they go swimming. But swimming in the lake with fish isn’t at all like swimming in an indoor pool. They go hiking, but hiking has a lot more hills than walking around town. Dinner is tofu dogs and broccoli salad, which is actually pretty good. Smores are munched before bed. But sleeping in a tent is something else that is pretty different, though it might help to look at the stars until you get sleepy. The next day, even the lake doesn’t look quite as scary anymore.

Mann celebrates the big outdoors and the joys (and pains) of outdoor activities. She nicely shows things that the narrator can learn to love, like swimming in a lake and going on hikes, rather than mosquito bites. Mann shows how high expectations of having tons of fun can feel horrible when reality comes along, but also how being open to new experiences allows us to love new things just as they are, fish and all.

Mann’s illustrations are done in pencil on tracing paper which is then digitally collaged and colored. The picture book reads more like a comic book with panels and lots of speech bubbles. The Black family at the heart of the book gives it a fresh and inclusive take on being outside.

Perfect for reading when camping in the wilderness, backyard or living room. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.

It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.

As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.

Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from purchased copy.

 

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (9781534405868)

When a storm blows in, the farm animals and wildlife take shelter together in the barn. There are pigs, goats, horses, cows, sheep, geese, cats, dogs, chickens, raccoons, turtles, turkeys, squirrels, mice and more! But outside in the storm, a fox family is caught in the rain after their home is flooded. The adult fox heads to the barn, carefully looking inside. She is sent away, the other animals saying that the barn is too full to take her in. But then one little yellow duckling steps out into the darkness and a connection is made. Soon all of the animals are inside drying off together. Other wild animals come later and more room is found, room for all.

Vaught writes here in simple paired rhyming lines that carry the story forward. She is incorporates interesting words into her poetry, such as “asunder” and “dapple.” They will have children stretching and building vocabulary in the most organic and natural of ways.

The illustrations are truly the star of this beautiful book. Filled with a compelling mix of two-page spreads, one page images and sometimes groupings of vignettes, the illustrations are detailed and just right to pore over. Murphy’s art gives each of the animals their own personality, showing clearly how attitudes change from the beginning to the end of the book. The final pages offer a wordless look at the farm after the storm with everyone happily mingling together.

A look at prejudice and inclusion in a way that all children will understand. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (9780062891495)

Karina knows she isn’t the daughter her mother wanted. After Karina’s older sister and father were killed in a fire that she can barely remember, Karina had to take her sister’s place as heir. But her mother, The Kestrel, never taught her the same way that her older sister was taught, and Karina found great pleasure in defying any expectations. Now the country is starting a new era, triggered by the appearance of a comet in the skies, where the various factions will fight to see whose god or goddess rules in the next 50 years. Karina’s mother shows her for the first time, the magic that keeps their country safe, but then is killed before explaining it fully to her. Now Karina must find a way forward, led by a book’s instructions on resurrecting the dead. Meanwhile, Malik is a refugee caught outside the city’s walls. When his little sister is trapped by a dark spirit, Malik must promise to kill Karina in order to gain his sister’s release. He soon discovers that what he had been told was mental issues was actually his magic, a magic that he uses to get closer to be Karina by becoming a Champion, seemingly selected by his god. As the lives of the two run parallel to one another, they find themselves negotiating politics, magic, greed, and betrayal.

Brown has crafted an entire world of matriarchal queens that spirals with hidden and forgotten magic. Filled with African elements, the story weaves around figures such as Hyena, wraiths that lurk in the corners of the world, and the savagery of power. Brown also speaks to the plight of refugees, of entire people’s being seen as lesser than and vilified while still used as servants. Her world is detailed and fascinating, including a well-crafted alignment system that plays into the contests and much more.

The two main protagonists are complicated. At times, each of them becomes quite unlikeable, making choices that are questionable. And yet, one can’t help but root for them to figure things out, come back to being the people readers know they are deep down, and to realize that they are heroines and heroes of their own lives. Readers will enjoy the romantic elements, but nicely these are not the main focus of the novel which is jam-packed with action, contests, battles and more.

Unique, detailed and fascinating, this first book in a series is a heady mix of African myth, political intrigue and fantasy. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.