Review: A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (9780823443314)

This book focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech but in a fresh and unique way. It looks at the difficulty of writing such an important speech to be delivered before such a huge crowd. It offers glimpses of King working with a group of advisors and speech writers to come up with the right approach. Then King heads off with only one other person and works all night on his speech. He stands in front of America and gives the speech of his life, the entire thing not coming together and offering him a place to land until he is encouraged to talk about the dream and he leaves his carefully written speech behind and flies.

Written almost as a poem, this picture book offers a look at how the historic speech came to be. It shows the night before the speech in 1963, the early morning hours of writing, and finally the afternoon before of still sculpting the words, the rhythms and the rhymes. And then, powerfully, it shows leaving that carefully written script behind and following the pastors of his family into glory.

Pinkney’s illustrations are so personal and filled with strength. Readers can look into the weary eyes of King as he continues to draft the speech despite not sleeping the night before. They can see the diverse crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. and almost hear the noise of it. They can certainly hear the echoes of King’s voice emerge from the images on the page as his voice soars.

Superb both in writing and illustration, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang (9781250183880)

Moon and Christine could not be more different even though they both have grown up in the same Chinese-American neighborhood. Christine has strict parents who don’t let her wear nail polish, much less makeup. Moon’s single-parent mother is accepting and gentle. Christine tends to be more concerned with fitting in than Moon who is rather dreamy and loves dancing and music. The two girls decide to enter the school’s talent contest as a dance team, bringing out Christine’s performing side that she never knew existed. Just as the girls start to gel as friends though, Moon reveals that she has visions sometimes. When the true cause of the visions turns out to be seizures, Christine must figure out what sort of friend she really is.

Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American. She draws from her own medical past with seizures and brain surgery to create a graphic novel that is wrenching and real. She entirely leaves her heart on the pages, giving us two girls who are different from one another but clearly meant to be friends. The books’ premise may be personal, but the result is a book that is universal. Wang’s art is accessible and friendly, inviting readers to explore and learn along the way. There are wonderful moments that are distinctly Chinese-American that resonate across cultures.

A warm and rich graphic novel about friendship and so much more. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)

Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.

Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.

A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.

Review: Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9781481487405)

Teresa Carreno was a Venezuelan pianist who fled to the United States as a child when there was a revolution in her home country. But arriving in the U.S., there was a war here too, the Civil War was raging. Teresa used music to communicate, practicing her piano with a variety of musicians who came to her home. She played piano in enormous theaters as a child. Then, she was invited to play at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Teresa believed in the power of music, but how could it overcome the horrors of war and reach the heart of one of the most powerful men in the world, who had just lost his son. At the White House, Teresa found herself at a poorly-tuned piano and unable to start. When President Lincoln requested his favorite song, Teresa played it and improvised as well. Carreno went on to become world famous for her piano, composing and singing.

Engle embraces using poetic language in her picture books. Here, the moments of Carreno’s life come alive thanks to Engle’s language that uses metaphors often. Her metaphors will be well understood by children such as, “playing hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds” and “they stepped into a room so red that it looked like a storm o r a sunrise.” The effect is immersive and breathtaking.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in mixed media and assembled digitally. Dramatic moments such as the family fleeing Venezuela are done in deep colors that capture the mood and have layers of content to explore. Historical figures and Carreno herself have clear emotions that show the impact of her music.

A strong biography about a young girl with a tremendous gift. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum. 

 

Review: Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (9781629798813)

Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia. Removed from her mother at a young age and separated from her older sister, Grimes found a loving foster family where she discovered the power of writing her feelings and experiences out on paper. She visited her mother occasionally during that time and they were eventually reunited when her mother got sober and remarried. But it wasn’t that simple or easy. Grimes was trapped in a home filled with a cycle of addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse from her stepfather. Told with a strong sense of hope and resilience, this book is a brave look back into a traumatic childhood.

Grimes has created a book that carries readers back into her previous experiences, showing how she survived, how writing helped, and how she found hope and strength in people other than her mother. Grimes has recreated some of her childhood and teen  journals which were destroyed. In these small glimpses told in the voice of her youth she shows her confusion and strength vividly.

Throughout the book, Grimes mentions that she doesn’t have clear memories of much of her youth due to the trauma that was inflicted upon her. Her willingness to explore such painful subjects even though her memories are incomplete or entirely gone is a concrete example of her resilient spirit and hope.

A powerful and poetic look at trauma and the building of a new life. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by WordSong.

Review: Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuoka

Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuoka

Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuoka (9781776572311)

Leap into this great board book for toddlers! On one page, the animal is sitting waiting to jump, then with the turn of the page the animal launches into the air. Each jump is accompanied with a merry and silly noise that is some version of “boing!” Sometimes there are additional syllables to create even more fun. The format turns the book lengthwise so that the animals can jump even higher. The illustrations are simple and joyous.

A delight of a board book sure to get everyone jumping. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

Review: I Wonder by K. A. Holt

I Wonder by K. A. Holt

I Wonder by K. A. Holt, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9781524714222)

From waking up to finally going to bed, the day is filled with questions. There are questions about whether the sun is really a kite. Do tires get tired? What are boy ladybugs called? Where are the unicorns? Could your belly button hold a galaxy? How do shadows work? Are toys lonely or sad? Do trees dream? One after another the questions are asked and left unanswered for the reader to think about and ponder. The book ends with children being reminded that they wonder because they are wonderful.

Holt’s text is a series of marvelous questions that really get readers thinking about wild possibilities in the world. If you are sharing this book aloud, expect conversations about the questions, some of which could lead to great discussions about fascinating topics. It is also a great book to read and quietly think deep thoughts on your own too. Pak’s illustrations are filled with a diverse cast of characters. The images are ethereal. They are also beautifully structured with curves of road, bubbles in water, and the night sky all featured in the course of the book.

A book to marvel at and wonder with. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House. 

Review: Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel (9781643439556)

Priya lives with her family in the United States. Her’s is the only house in her neighborhood where an Indian family lives. Priya loves to help her grandmother make rotli for dinner when she gets home. As they make the flatbread, her Babi Ba tells her about India’s spice markets, the architecture, the noises of the traffic, and the monsoon rains. Their house has marigolds strung over the door just like those in India. Priya longs to see India for herself. When winter comes, Babi Ba doesn’t hang marigolds outside any more. Priya has an idea and soon her entire class is helping her make paper marigolds as she tells them about India.

Patel, who is Indian-American, tells a story that focuses on a family’s continued connection to their heritage while living in the United States. Priya is proud of her Indian heritage, loving to hear stories about India and its sounds and sights. Still, there is a sense of distance between her own heritage and the society around her, one that can be bridged by sharing stories. The art in the book is rich will the colors of spices. Deep greens and warm pinks add to the color palette too.

A celebration of Indian heritage and the strength of family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mr. Scruff by Simon James

Mr. Scruff by Simon James

Mr. Scruff by Simon James (9781536209358)

Explore the bond of dogs and their owners in this funny picture book. All of the dogs’ names rhyme with their owners. There is Polly and Molly. Eric belongs to Derek. But Mr. Scruff, well he has no one. He’s in a cage waiting to be adopted. Mick has Rick. There is Lawrence and Florence. When Jim comes to pick a dog, he likes Mr. Scruff and Mr. Scruff likes him too! But Mr. Scruff is big and Jim is small. Mr. Scruff is old and Jim is young. None of that matters though to a boy and his new dog. But wait, who is this entering the dog adoption center? It’s Mr. Gruff! What will happen now?

James keeps this picture book oh so simple. He fills it with a collection of dogs and their owners. And yes, everyone’s names rhyme which makes it a galloping read. There are wonderful moments of hesitation built into the text, where the lack of rhyme gives room to pause and wonder a bit. Masterful and playful. The watercolor illustrations have loose lines and are filled with dogs of all breeds. There is a sense of loneliness in the adoption center, but not neglect at all.

This one rhymes its way into your heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.