Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780544785816)

Ethan finds it really hard to wait for the maple sap to start running in the late winter. He knows the signs of the time approaching. It’s when he doesn’t have maple syrup for pancakes or oatmeal. His father explains that the days have to get warmer for the syrup to run as well as the nights getting shorter. Ethan thinks he notices it changing, but sometimes gets too eager like not wearing his winter coat anymore. When Ethan’s tooth gets loose, his father tells him that it should fall out around the same time as the sap starts running. Now Ethan has two things to wait for, but one that he can perhaps make happen a bit faster by wiggling it. Still, it takes some time for his tooth to loosen and for the weather to change. Then one day, it’s finally time both for maple syrup and for his tooth to fall out.

Schmidt and Stickney have created a classic tale about patience and waiting for things to happen. Ethan is wonderfully impatient and yet also able to wait, though not really without asking again and again about it. As the darkness refuses to lessen and the days refuse to warm, readers will understand his anticipation. The use of breakfasts to mark a lack of syrup is clever and homey, just to add even more warmth and love to the book. It’s great to see a book with a caretaker father which is not about the lack of a mother or being in a unique family. It’s particularly wonderful to see such a skillful and loving dad.

Karas’ illustrations capture the dark days of winter, the snow that refuses to disappear, and the slow process of the arrival of early spring. The darkness lurks against the warm yellow of the interior of the home, offering real contrast as the pages turn.

A sweet but not syrupy picture book about fathers, patience and food. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (9781616208967)

San Antonio is not a comfortable place for the Torres sisters. Their mother died giving birth to Rosa, the youngest sister, and their father never recovered from her death, drowning his feelings in drink. When the oldest sister, Ana falls from her window and dies, it takes a great toll on the entire family. A year later, the cracks are beginning to become even larger. Their father is rarely home and when he is he is verbally abusive, demanding, and drunk. Jessica, who got Ana’s bedroom and clothes, mourns her sister by dating the same boy she did. The relationship is violent and controlling, but Jessica can’t seem to move on. Iridian has stopped going to school, reads the same book over and over again, and writes her own stories. She finds herself caught indoors, unwilling to leave their horrible house. Rosa seeks the hyena that is loose in their neighborhood, wondering what special gift she might have and searching for it outside and in religion. The girls all want to escape, and it may just take Ana returning as a ghost to get them free.

Mabry’s novel is exceptional. Her writing is achingly beautiful, telling a story of profound grief and pain. Yet throughout, each of the sisters has bursts of hope, their own unique way forward potentially, if they could just take it. It’s tantalizing writing that creates its own unique emotional tug and writing that offers gem-like moments of clarity before succumbing under the weight of grief once more. The flashes of anger are like lightning on the page, bursts where one thinks things are about to change.

The sisters are all wonderfully crafted and unique from one another. The interplay of their relationships feels like sisterhood, lifting one another up unexpectedly, injuring each other inadvertently and fighting like hell to save the others.

A great teen novel about sisterhood, grief and ghosts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin.

Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee

Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee

Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion (9780525644620)

When Auntie Clara can’t watch Daniel while his parents go to work at night, he goes along with them to their janitorial job. Daniel had been warm and snuggly in his bed, but had to get dressed and ride downtown. As his parents get their tools and equipment ready to go, they begin to tell him about The Paper Kingdom, which is the land that they clean every night. The throne room is a large room with a long table with papers strewn everywhere. The king is nowhere to be seen. His parents warn Daniel to not upset the queen and to be on the lookout for dragons who seem to like hiding in the bathrooms. Daniel gets upset when he sees how much cleaning work all of the kingdom has left for his parents. They encourage him to instead focus on becoming the paper king in the future and ruling differently. 

In her author’s note, Rhee tells of her own childhood as a daughter of night janitors and being taken with them to work sometimes. The playful world created by the parents in the book is warm and loving. Yet it also subtly speaks to the role of power and wealth in the system in a way that children will understand. The hard work by Daniel’s parents is emphasized throughout the picture book with the parents doing physical labor and sneezing and rubbing sore muscles. 

The illustrations also emphasize the extent of the workload of the parents, the sweat pouring from them and them often working on hands and knees. The imaginative playfulness is also shown with the red dragons lurking around. 

A winning look at parents who work nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.

From My Window by Otavio Junior

From My Window by Otavio Junior

From My Window by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff, translated by Beatriz C. Dias (9781782859772)

Visit a beautiful favela district in Brazil via this bright picture book. A favela is an area in Brazil that is not managed by the government but by the people who live there. Because of this, water and electricity can be difficult to access. From their high vantage point of a window, the narrator can see throughout their favela. They see roofs and windows and people. Sometimes the people are using water to get cooler. At night the lights dim that fireflies appear on the paths. Grey days are brightened with occasional rainbows. Sometimes the air is full of music and poetry, other times the sounds of sadness come. Rain falls, children head to school, and the favela bustles with activity.

Originally published in Brazil, Junior writes of his own home in a favela in this picture book. He plays with themes of dreams and treasure, but also keeps the book firmly grounded in reality. His clear vision of both joy and sadness in the crowded and busy neighborhood keeps the book from being too light, grounding it in the occasional gray day and leaking roofs.

Starkoff’s illustrations are done in acrylic using tropical colors of bright yellows, pinks, greens and blues. The illustrations show so many different types of people, all enjoying the neighborhood together. The images that pull back and show the full favela are incredibly detailed and worth looking at closely.

A dynamic look at a unique type of Brazilian community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Barefoot Books.

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (9780062881687)

Efren’s family works hard all day to provide for him and his younger twin siblings, Mia and Max. Efren’s mother, Ama, really holds the family together, creating delicious meals from leftovers every day. He thinks of her as “Soperwoman” because of the delicious sopes she makes. When Ama is seized by ICE and deported, it falls to Efren to watch his younger siblings, getting them ready in the morning, to bed at night, and trying to distract them from missing Ama. Efren’s father is working two jobs and not sleeping at all, just to send money to his mother in order to get her back into the U.S. As Efren’s school work and friendships start to suffer from the pressure he is under and his worry for his entire family, he looks for ways to make sure that his little brother and sister still feel loved, the way his mother would want them to.

Cisneros has created an ownvoices novel for middle graders that grapples with the state of immigration in the United States. The book is timely, speaking directly to situations that children across our country face every day if their parents are undocumented. The level of fear and dread that ICE has for these families, the danger of being deported, and the risks of returning to their families is all captured here, 

Efren is a marvelous protagonist. He is smart and has a huge heart as well as an astounding amount of patience towards his little brother and sister. Living in real poverty, his only wish is for his family to be whole, not for a phone, a bigger TV or anything but having his mother back. 

A gripping and rich look at the impact of current immigration policies on children of undocumented families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

 

Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec

Wanted Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec

Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Susan Batori (9781525300240)

Take a look at the thirteen most wanted creatures in the animal kingdom. Their crimes are all unique to them and their names indicate what they have done. There is Big Bad Mama, Bubbles, Queenie the Meanie, and the Backyard Burglar. Each animal has its own rap sheet, complete with what they are wanted for, their aliases, distinguishing features, life span, sightings, witnesses and even previous arrests and gang affiliations. The various crimes are things like faking their own death for a frog, assault for spitting llamas, and traffic violations for crabs who cross the road in a huge crowd.

Done with a broad sense of humor, the book also offers factual information within the laughter. The criminal activity part of their rap sheet offers a paragraph about the animal and its problematic behavior. Some of the animals may be familiar to children but others will be a delight to discover. The art works seamlessly with the text to create a full rap sheet with loose paperclips, file folders, photographs and much more.

Humor combines with science and police records to create a funny and dynamic animal picture book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by AG Ford (9780374307523)

A family of father, mother and baby play across the pages of this picture book. As the sun begins to set, they head home from a day outside. Baby heads across the floor, crawling and almost standing. As dinner is being made, he throws things out of his playpen. Then he gets to bang pots and pans for awhile before dinner. He gets fussy and hungry just in time to make a tremendous mess eating. Then it’s bath time before getting ready for bed. The family dances together until it’s time for stories and sleep. 

This book is just perfect for little ones, allowing brown babies to see themselves on the page and babies of other colors to celebrate them. The family is warm and lovely, just right for a toddler bedtime read. The cozy factor is huge here, rather like a hug made into a book. The sprinkling of Spanish phrases throughout the story adds so much. Ford’s illustrations glow with warmth on the page, filling them with toddler activities in a busy family. 

A beautiful glimpse of an evening in the life of a family. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Portrait in Poems by Evie Robillard

Portrait in Poems The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard

Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard, illustrated by Rachel Katstaller (9781525300561)

Enter the marvelous world of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas in France in the middle of the 20th century. Stein created an art gallery in her home after moving to Paris with her brother. They purchased from many incredible artists of the time, including Picasso. In fact, Picasso was so taken with Stein that he had her sit for a portrait which he then gave to her as a gift. Saturday evenings, they opened their home so that others could see the art. Stein was both a writer and a genius, working on capturing her world in words for both adults and children. Stein and Toklas purchased a dog they called Basket, that was featured in Stein’s work, including the “autobiography” she wrote about Alice. 

Robillard captures the essence of the life that Stein and Toklas created together, one of acceptance and adoration for one another. Her author’s note speaks to the complexity of their life in World War II France as well as their relationships with those who conspired with the Germans, which likely allowed them to keep their collection of masterpieces safe during the invasion. These elements are not referred to in the body of the book, instead focusing on the art collection, the world they built for themselves, and Stein’s writing and ideas.

Fitting nicely with the clever writing, the illustrations are playful and jovial with a great quirkiness as well. The images depict Gertrude and Alice together, their garden, their home and Basket as well in a color palette that feels timely and modern. 

A lovely picture book biography that celebrates an iconic lesbian couple in history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa (9780525555827)

A little boy lives with a bear, who sleeps in the room next door. The bear is big, with sharp teeth and strong arms. It runs really fast, is bossy and loud. When the boy tries to tell his family that they live with a bear, they tell him not to be silly and to go play outside. Outside on the swings, the boy is approached by some bullies. Luckily though, the strong, mean, big, fast bear is nearby. The bear also shows how it can be pretty fun to have a bear, or big sister, in the family after all.

Younger siblings will adore this book about living with a rather cranky older sibling. It shows both sides of having a bear in the family, from the disruption and orders to the fun games and protection they offer. The tone of the book is just right, using the bear analogy to show the sibling relationship as it becomes strained and then later when peace is made. The final little twist at the end adds to the fun.

The digital art in this picture book is done with handmade textures that add an organic appeal to the images. With a feel of watercolor complete with colors bleeding into one another, the illustrations are colorful and funny.

Missing this one might be unBEARable. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.