Review: You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid

You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid

You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan (9781419736179)

Celebrate the life of the person who became Mister Rogers, a beloved children’s television creator. As a child, Freddie was often sick and filled his days with puppets. He found it hard to make friends and was bullied sometimes. Freddie found that piano was a way he could express his feelings. His mother also told him to look for people around who were helpers, which made him feel safe and supported. His grandfather allowed Freddie to take risks as a child and know that he was adored. When Fred Rogers created his television show, he incorporated all of these childhood inspirations. His show had lots of helpers who shared their talents, talked about difficult subjects, and always told children that they were valued.

Reid draws clear parallels between Fred Rogers’ childhood experiences and the television show he eventually created. The use of his own childhood as inspiration resonates with the readers, allowing them to better understand the impetus behind the iconic show. Even his own talents with puppetry and piano which were highlighted on the show are shown as ways that he expressed himself in the darker times of growing up.

Phelan’s art is done in watercolor and pencil. Special small moments are created in the images such as Freddie Rogers wearing a cardigan or the simple images of Rogers on the television in a variety of situations.

A book that vibrantly captures one of the pioneers of children’s television. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Paper Son by Julie Leung

Paper Son The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki (9781524771874)

Released on September 24, 2019.

Tyrus Wong entered the United States by using papers that belonged to another Chinese boy. In 1919, Chinese people entering the U.S. had to prove that they were of high status. Tyrus and his father both traveled under other people’s identities, making him a paper son. He had to memorize details of the other boy’s life and village, knowing that he would be tested to see if his identity was real. When they reached immigration, his father was let through easily but Tyrus was held for weeks until he was finally released after being interrogated about his identity. Tyrus didn’t like school much and his father was often away for work. Tyrus loved art, studying both western and eastern art styles. After he graduated from art school, he worked for Disney Studios, doing painstaking work. Then he heard of a new movie, Bambi, that the studio was working on. He began to create backgrounds for the film and Walt Disney loved them. Fired from Disney after a worker’s strike, Tyrus continued to make art throughout the rest of his life.

Leung tells Wong’s story with a lovely clarity. From his entry into the country through his career, Wong’s tale is not linear but rather a series of opportunities that he seized upon. The beginning of the book shows a family trapped in the red tape of immigration and that harrowing experience blossoms into a book about art and opportunity to express one’s self. That again narrows when Wong finds himself doing grunt work for Disney Studios and once again opportunities appear to move him forward. Throughout there is a sense of grace and resilience when faced with real obstacles.

The art work is clearly done with Wong in mind, with its ethereal backgrounds. The images are powerful, often showing things from a unique perspective from a look at a line of people on a long pier to directly gazing into Wong’s window to looking down at an image painted with a mop. The result is dramatic and beautiful.

A picture book biography that celebrates a lesser-known artist whose work we have all seen. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers

16 Words William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow by Lisa Jean Rogers

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781524720179)

This nonfiction picture book explores the inspiration behind Williams’ most famous poem as well as the life of the poet who wrote it. The book begins with Williams on his doctor’s rounds, noticing the red wheelbarrow that belonged to Mr. Thaddeus Marshall, who works harvesting and selling vegetables in Rutherford, New Jersey. Williams uses his spare time at work writing poems and noticing small things around him. He types between office visits and takes notes as he walks through the town. Then one glimpse out of a window on a rainy day created a moment that inspired one of the greatest poems.

Rogers writes a biography focused on Williams himself and on the inspiring white chickens and red wheelbarrow. She takes time to not only capture that iconic image once but several times on the page, showing how inspiration lingers and returns. She also makes sure to linger on how Williams works writing into his role as the town doctor and how he notices small things that inspire him.

The illustrations are done digitally and feel very organically with pencil and brush lines on each page. The colors are pastel and gentle, encouraging readers to look more closely and linger just as Williams himself was doing.

A nonfiction picture book about writing, poetry and life. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

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: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747297)

Lalani lives on the island of Sanlagita during a long drought where all of the plants are dying and water is growing scarcer by the day. The residents of her island pray every day for mercy from the large mountain they live near. There are tales of another mountain across the sea that is on an abundant island where all of your needs are met. So the island sends out ships of their strongest men trying to journey to this other island and mountain. Nothing returns from these journeys but broken pieces of the ships. Lalani is a regular girl inspired by the tale of another island girl who died trying to make her own journey. As Lalani finds herself caught up with a magical exile, she wishes for rain and the unending rain that results brings disaster with it. Shunned by others on the island, Lalani makes the choice to take her own journey across the sea.

Inspired by Filipino folklore, this is an amazing novel by a Newbery-award winning author. The barren and limited world that Lalani lives in is filled with anger, bullying and still love and friendship. The entire society feels tense and on edge, one step from coming to blows. It makes what Lalani finds on her journey all the more incredible. Kelly has created a world of magical and unusual creatures that spring to life. Several of them are given special treatment where the reader is asked to imagine themselves being that creature which is a marvelous invitation to change perspective.

As always, Kelly’s writing is so skillful that one doesn’t even realize it. Her books read so easily and well, this time carrying readers into a fantastical world filled with creatures from dreams and nightmares. Lalani is a great protagonist. She is brave, audacious with just the right amount of regular person mixed in too.

A glorious fantasy from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (9781681191089)

When a project about family is assigned at school, Amara realizes that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her own family. Her mothers’ parents are both dead and she had no siblings, but her father’s side lives across the country in Harlem. Amara asks if she could travel to Harlem to see her grandfather whom she only knows from phone calls and cards, since her father often goes there on business. Her parents refuse for some time, then agree to allow her to go. It will be the first time in twelve years that her father sees his own father. Now it is Amara’s job to complete her school assignment by interviewing family members, explore New York City and also bring her family back together, all in a single week!

Newbery Honor winner, Watson brings her considerable writing skill to a fractured family. She captures how forgiveness is difficult even though love is still there and allows the connection between father and son to organically rebuild. All of this is seen through Amara’s eyes as she discovers that her family is different than she realized and that her father has a surprising history she knew nothing about.

Setting is so important in this novel with Harlem and New York City becoming characters in Amara’s story. Many important places in African-American history are explored including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center. Murals and sculptures that feature African-American figures in history are also featured in the story. Readers will want to explore these streets themselves.

A warm and rich exploration of complicated family relationships and love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.