Something Good by Marcy Campbell

Cover image for Something Good.

Something Good by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (9780759557420)

When a “bad-something” is found written on the wall in the girls’ restroom at school, the principal says that this won’t be tolerated. One girl and her friends sneak into the bathroom to see what the bad thing is. It’s fun at first, until they see what is written. The bad something is truly bad, leaving them all feeling horrible. No one knows who wrote it, so everyone is looking closely at one another for clues. Afterwards people were meaner to each other. So the school decided to give everyone ribbons to remind them who they are and then launched an art project to permanently cover the bad thing. Everyone worked together painting and creating until they had made something remarkable. Sharing poems afterwards, students became kinder to one another, reminded who they are and who they want to be.

Based on happenings in her children’s schools, this picture book shows the continued impact that hate speech can have on a school. Campbell shows the emotions of the various children clearly, making space for different reactions to what has been written and also showing how not knowing exactly what was said can also cause emotional and negative responses. The book is filled with empathy for the students and offers one of many solutions to bring the student body back around. Using art to express themselves allows for emotions to be shared and the community itself to step forward.

The art is done in gouache, colored pencil and ink. The art shows the mixed emotions of the students in the school, reddened and sharpened feelings of accusation, dark red and black of meanness, bright yellow of hope and change. The illustrations are a gorgeous mix of lightness of line with deep color that conveys the feelings.

A look at hate speech and how to confront its impact. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narvaez Varela

Cover image for Thirty Talks Weird Love.

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narvaez Varela (9781947627482)

In 1990s Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, girls were being kidnapped from the streets, so Anamaria’s parents were very careful about where she was in the city and what she was doing. She spends most of her time studying and trying to get top rank in her class at a private middle school, since she plans to be a doctor. Then one day, a limping woman who claims to be Anamaria from the future arrives to change the past. She is by turns frightening, cheesy and just plain strange. The woman also says that she is a poet, not a doctor, something that Anamaria can’t even comprehend. She also insists that Anamaria needs help and needs to change the way she is living and get help.

The wild title and cover lead readers to an exploration of depression and overwork in young people in schools. Written in verse, the book also shows the power of being willing to take a chance and find a way to express yourself in poetry and words. Varela chillingly captures the smallness of Varela’s world, a toxic trudge of schoolwork and messed up friendships and working for her parents. Even as everyone works to protect her from the dangers of the streets, they are unaware that the real danger may be invisible and inside Anamaria herself.

The writing here is marvelous. Varela shows how halting first attempts at poetry grow into true self expression and a way to release internal pressures. Anamaria shows herself to be deep and thoughtful, far more interesting than the girl striving to beat everyone at school. The author uses clever poetic formats to transform larger poems into something altogether different and drawings combined with words to create apologies and new connections.

A deep delve into depression and the power of poetry. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Cinco Puntos Press.

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers by Lauren Tobia

Cover image for Oscar’s Tower of Flowers.

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers by Lauren Tobia (9781536217773)

This wordless picture book tells the story of Oscar and his love of plants and flowers. Oscar’s mother has left him with a relative and his favorite picture of him and his mother is full of flowers. At first, they grow just one little plant in a pot but soon after a visit to a garden store, Oscar has much more. He selects seeds to plant, potting soil and tools. Back in the apartment, they fill all sorts of containers with soil and seeds, placing them on the sunny windowsill. Then they all sprout! The apartment fills with plants, including the bathroom. It all gets a little too crowded, so Oscar gives the plants away to their neighbors. With his mother back, she and the reader can see the way that Oscar transformed not only one apartment but the entire neighborhood.

Tobia creates a warm and lovely story here filled with an adult empowering a child to follow his interest. Oscar communicates through his drawings of plants, showing his desire to grow something. The woman taking care of him, who may be an aunt or a rather young grandmother, dives in with him, getting him the tools and items he needs to truly grow plants. The solution of sharing his success with everyone is transformational for the entire apartment complex. The diverse urban setting changes from stark to vibrantly green and growing in the course of a few months, thanks to one little boy.

A wordless picture book about sharing, community and the impact a child can have. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

How to Find a Fox by Kate Gardner

Cover image for How to Find a Fox.

How to Find a Fox by Kate Gardner, photographs by Ossi Saarinen (9780762471355)

This nonfiction picture book explores the world of the fox in beautiful photographs. The text is a mixture of a very simple storyline of finding a fox combined with detailed facts about foxes and their adaptability in a changing world. The book looks at when it is best to find a fox, such as time of day or season. It goes on to describe what a fox looks like and what to look for when finding their tracks. You can also listen for yips or other noises. But most importantly, you must try to be very quiet and hope that a fox might just find you!

The text of the book is well-written and full of interesting foxy facts. Children will want not only the simple story but to hear about the details of the fox’s life and how to find one themselves. The premise of the book alone is an invitation that is almost impossible to turn away from.

From the cover and through the entire book, the photographs are the focus. They marvelously capture the fox with clarity and a real feeling for their character. There are images where the fox is lit by the sun where you can almost sink your fingers into their fur. Other pages have the fox looking right at the reader with undeniable intelligence. Simply beautiful.

One of the most enticing and gorgeous animal books of the year. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Running Press Kids.

See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat by David LaRochelle

Cover image for See the Dog.

See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536216295)

When the dog gets sick, cat takes his place in this sequel to See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog. In the first story, Cat has to run, bark and then dig a hole. But the cat has their own way of digging that surprises the bossy book. In the second story, the cat has to swim across the lake and fetch the stick. But cats don’t like water nearly as much as dogs do! Again, the cat makes the most of it by the end of the tale. The third story has the cat protecting a sheep from the approaching wolf. All seems lost until cat is saved and can stop being the dog in the story.

The Geisel Award winning, See the Cat was a great book for beginning readers and the second in the series keeps the same wit and silliness. The bossy tone of the book is just right, following so many beginning reader tropes with repeating words, direct orders, and all with very funny results. This is another book that will have readers laughing rather than frustrated as they start to read.

I’m fascinated that these books are done by two people, since the illustrations and the text seem to beautifully interwoven into one solid story full of humorous moments. the illustrations play with beginning reader simplicity but add in a touch of frenzy and zany energy that makes it all the better.

A grand sequel sure to charm beginning readers and the adults who listen to them read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang

Cover image for From the Tops of the Trees.

From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Rachel Wada (9781541581302)

A true story from the Hmong author’s childhood, this picture book brings readers to the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand in 1985. Their days are filled with hunger and finding fruit that they can pretend are candy. The aunties in the camp talk about the war and their fears of returning to the old country or heading to a new country. Every week the families in the camp are given enough food for three days. It’s a practice meant to deter other Hmong refugees from entering the country. After Kao asks about the world beyond the camp, her father takes her to the tallest tree in camp, climbs with her to the highest branches, and gives her a view of the world beyond the camp.

Yang shows the view of the refugee camp from that of a small child living there. The day is filled with happy moments like riding one of the dogs and racing the chickens for rice balls. Yet there is no escaping that they are in a refugee camp. Yang shares this by having the adults talk about the war, showing the food disbursement, and having Kao explain that they can’t leave but others can enter. The climb into the branches is dramatic and inspiring, a look a freedom that could not be more moving and tangible.

Wada uses a mix of traditional media like graphite and watercolor with digital tools. She shows Yang’s small family, using more saturated colors to pull them out of the crowds and to keep the focus on the young Kao in the camps. The colors are sandy and subtle, becoming deeper as they reach the treetop to see the world around them.

Another gorgeous and skilled picture book from Yang that captures the experience of the Hmong refugee camps and Hmong Americans. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Cover image for A Lesson in Vengeance.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (9780593305829)

Felicity is returning to Dalloway School after the tragic death of her girlfriend ended her previous senior year early. But it’s not easy to return to the ivy-covered school that is filled with dark legends that Felicity finds herself drawn to. The early days of the school date to the witch trials and five Dalloway students died early in the schools history, their deaths filled with connections to witchcraft. As Felicity starts her senior year again, she meets a compelling new student, a young novelist who is working on her second book. When Ellis reveals her book is going to be about the Dalloway Five, Felicity agrees to help her with her research. As the two research documents, they also form their own coven and begin to explore the occult. There is so much history filled with questions, and that includes the death of Felicity’s girlfriend a year ago too.

This book is beautiful and delicious. I love that it has its own distinct vintage style too, combining elbow patches and fifties sweaters with cell phones. The witch elements of the story are an invigorating mix of real history with existing covens but also may be covering up more realistic reasons for the deaths of the five girls. The setting itself is marvelously isolated and allows the characters a lot of freedom. These are wealthy girls, who flaunt their privilege at times and deny it at others.

The book is layered and complex. It turns from being a gothic, vintage witchcraft tale to something even darker. As Felicity’s mental health destabilizes, the truth emerges in fits and starts. The book becomes far more about the power of young women, the way society has frowned upon them gaining agency in the world, and what that means today. Beautifully, that doesn’t mean that the bloody nature of the book goes away. Far from it.

Dark, dangerous and delightful. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press.

Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast by David Ezra Stein

Cover image for Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast.

Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast by David Ezra Stein (9781536207781)

Little red chicken got up early on Saturday and brought his Papa breakfast in bed. Cookies for breakfast! But Papa doesn’t want either of them having cookies for breakfast and just wants to sleep a little longer. He agrees to read a book together though. Little red chicken picked out a book of nursery rhymes. There Was an Old Woman started out normally enough, but soon Little red chicken has turned it into a tale of shared cookies in a shoe. Jack and his candlestick and Hickory Dickory Dock all get changed too and now include cookies. Papa is starting to get a headache, so Little red chicken writes him a rhyme of his own which features cookies, of course. Now it is Papa’s turn to be hungry, and the two of them agree on a different treat for breakfast, cake! Pancakes.

This third book in the Interrupting Chicken series is another winner. In this book, Little red chicken interrupts regularly to continue to ask for cookies for breakfast. His sleepy and patient father goes along as best he can while also insisting that neither of them would have cookies for breakfast. The interruptions are great fun, transforming classic nursery rhymes into delicious humor. The relationship between the two characters is also a pleasure with their back and forth dialogue being just as joyous as the silly rhymes.

The art by Stein contrasts highly saturated and deeply colored images of the chickens with light pastel vintage nursery rhymes shown in a book. Those in turn get changed with some clever erasing and crayons that add yet another layer to the stories.

Another winner in a charming series. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Anne Wynter

Cover image for Everybody in the Red Brick Building.

Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Anne Wynter, illustrated by Oge Mora (9780062865762)

Everybody in the red brick building was sleeping until Baby Izzie howled in her crib. That set off a chain reaction that got lots of people in the building awake. Rayhan tried to quietly check on his parrot, who shouted to Wake up! The boys sleeping outside got into a game of flashlight tag. Natalia set off her light-up rocket. And the noise kept growing with a car alarm too. Then quiet returned with the street sweeper going by, acorns plonking down, windchimes, and Izzie getting snuggles. Finally, everyone in the red brick building was asleep – again.

Wynter takes a classic children’s story structure and brings the noises to a full cacophony before returning the building steadily to quiet again. The book is a great mixture of wildness in the middle of the night and then quieting to fall asleep, making it a great book to get restless children to bed. The text is filled with repeating loud noises that children will enjoy joining in to help make them even louder. As the book quiets down, the sounds become soft and gentle while staying just as enjoyable as before.

Mora’s illustrations are done in colorful paper collage that show the diverse community that lives in the red brick building together. The colors take the deep blue of night to the orange warmth of indoors to teals, lavenders, and yellows. The colors are engaging, making each page turn a new room of its own. The illustrations are just as dynamic as the book, and that is certainly saying something!

A great read-aloud bedtime book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer +Bray.