Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect Aretha Franklin The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9781534452282)

Told in a similar format to her signature song R-E-S-P-E-C-T, each double-page spread explores another important word in Franklin’s life. The book begins with her family’s move to Detroit and Aretha being raised in the middle of gospel and church. She is incredibly gifted musically, cutting her first gospel record at age 14. She becomes an R&B superstar, rising to the tops of the charts. She supports the civil rights movement with her voice, offering free concerts. She is there to sing President Obama into office. The book ends with plenty of RESPECT for all she has accomplished.

Weatherford’s clever use of single words, spelled out like the song, really forms a strong structure for this picture book. She keeps the book tightly focused and her words to a minimum, allowing the pace of Franklin’s own life and fame to propel the book forward.

The illustrations are gorgeous, the paintings singing with pinks and golds. Morrison uses interesting perspectives in his images, allowing Aretha to be the center of each, showing her changing style and the beauty of her powerful voice.

A fitting tribute for a queen. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

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

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (9781643750057)

Badger loves living alone in the big house where Aunt Lula lets him stay. He has turned the living room into a rock room for his Important Rock Work. There he spends many hours quietly absorbed in his work, identifying rocks and minerals. Then one day, Skunk arrives. Skunk refuses to stay more than one night in the guest closet and instead takes over Badger’s box room, making it into his bedroom. He too has been invited to stay by Aunt Lula. Skunk makes large breakfasts that make Badger full and happy until Badger is asked to do the washing up. But then things really go wrong when Skunk invites the chickens over. Soon a stoat is after the chickens, Badger is accidentally sprayed with skunk spray, and Badger says some horrible things to Skunk that cause him to leave. Now Badger is alone again, but not quite so happily as before.

Cracking this book open and reading the first page will have even the most jaded readers of children’s books realizing that they are reading a new classic. The book reads aloud beautifully, the pacing just right for sharing. The humor throughout is just the right mix of broad comedy and quieter silly moments. Add in the touching realizations that Badger has throughout the book as he becomes a much better roommate and friend, and you have a book with merriment, silliness and heart.

Klassen’s illustrations are marvelous, conveying differences between the two characters clearly. From the glowering Badger to the beaming Skunk, you could not have two small furry animals more different than these two. Add in a rocket potato, lots of chickens and exploring a new/old neighborhood, and there is plenty of humor and charm in these illustrations.

Funny, friendly and furry. Exactly what you want in a new classic to share aloud. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin Young Readers.

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)

Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.

Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.

The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.

This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar (9781338343809)

Betita’s father has always told her that they are descendants of the Aztecs who came from Atzlan, which is now the southwestern United States. They are cranes who have returned home. Living in Los Angeles, Betita goes to school while her parents work long hours. But then one day, her father is taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. Betita and her mother make the long car ride to the border to see him, but find themselves arrested and put into a detention camp. Forced to sleep on the concrete floor, eat moldy food, and succumb to the monotony and cruelty of the camp, Betita almost loses herself. But she rises, inspired by the women and children around her, to insist that they have rights even when she has no one with her anymore.

Salazar uses verse to tell the story of Betita and her family. The early part of the book is almost dreamy as the family creates their new life in Los Angeles together. But the book turns and twists into a razor-like call for dignity and legal help for those both deported and those held in camps. The conditions of the camp are horrible, the indignity and casual cruelty heaped upon them is almost soul crushing. It’s difficult to read and even more difficult to accept that this is the United States doing these things to children and families.

Salazar gives her young heroine a voice in the book, a playfulness and creativity that lets her create her own toys, form connections with other children. She also has the ability to write and to lead others to write their own stories too. That powerful ability is what allows the characters to rise above and insist upon being seen.

An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press. 

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist (9780593121368)

Adapted from the short story that was published in Flying Lessons & Other Stories, this novel tells the story of Isaiah Dunn. Isaiah lost his father almost a year ago and now lives in a motel with his mother and sister. His mother tries to hide her drinking from them, but Isaiah knows what the bottles mean even if she removes the labels. Isaiah is lucky to have his best friend, Sneaky, someone who has a candy-selling hustle at school. It may mean heading into a dangerous part of town, but he’s intent on earning money. Isaiah joins him, hoping to get enough money to get his family out of the motel. But Isaiah is tired too, tired of being hassled by classmates like Angel, who makes fun of him, tired of the teachers cracking down on him, tired of being hungry. Luckily, he also has his father’s journals, which keep him focused, inspire him to write, and lead him to find positive ways to support his family.

In her first novel, Baptist gives us an incredible young hero. Isaiah is a powerful mix of family-focus, creativity and anger. Inspired by his father, he tries to keep focused on the good, on doing the right thing and on supporting his family. But sometimes it is too much for a ten-year-old boy to be the adult. Sometimes you need help. The book is also filled with great adult role models for Isaiah, from teachers to neighbors to employers. He may not see them at first, but they are there, ready to support him and his family.

Baptist’s writing is child-centered and clarion clear. She demands that readers see Isaiah as more than a statistic, as a full human being, worthy of attention and help. In a family that has sustained a powerful loss, she depicts grief with real skill, allowing it to destroy but also to be the reason to rise again.

Powerful, deep and full of creative voice, this novel will make Isaiah everyone’s hero. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

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

12 New September Children’s Books

Here are 12 upcoming children’s books being released this month. They have all gotten starred reviews and plenty of buzz. Enjoy!

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai

The Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron

Pea, Bee, & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith

The Radium Girls: The Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Spindlefish and Stars by Christiane M. Andrews

Three Keys by Kelly Yang

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

 

Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest (9780763660079)

Bruno and Julie aren’t really friends anymore, but in the small town of Belle Beach, Long Island, they still see one another. That’s how Bruno sees Julie discover the baby that was left on the steps of the new children’s library. Julie carries the baby off, leaving Bruno to discover the note that Julie never found. Bruno though is on a mission for his brother who is overseas fighting in World War II, and he must decide if he will miss the train to New York or not. Told through flashbacks that show the story of Bruno, Julie and Julie’s little sister, Martha, this book explores the impact of the war on families and also how one complicated situation can somehow tie their entire summer together.

Hest creates a marvelous story told in brief chapters by each of the three characters. Their perspectives are beautifully individual, filled with misunderstandings about one another, views that are entirely their own, and opinions that they form along the way. The book is almost a puzzle, where one must figure out what is actually happening through these independent lenses that show a fractured image of the truth.

Each of the three characters has their own personality, deftly created and shown by Hest. Her writing is brief and clear, allowing each character’s words to stand strong as their own. It is the quality of her writing and the profound respect she shows her young characters that really let this delight of a novel work, revealing the moments and experiences of a single sun-drenched summer on the beach.

Ideal for summer reading, this work of historical fiction is masterful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick.

 

Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner

Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner

Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9781452169408)

This is the third book in the Over and Under series that explores ecosystems with children. The young narrator hikes into the rain forest with Tito, their guide. They discover the hidden world in the canopies of the trees, filled with monkeys, insects and birds. They cross a rope bridge that sways above the sleep crocodiles in the river. As they get higher, they see monkeys swing in the trees. Sloths ignore the rain as it starts to fall while blue morpho butterflies take shelter on the tree trunks. Everywhere there is life, small and large, predator and prey. The two people make it home for dinner, as darkness falls.

Messner creates a story that wraps the reader in the experience of walking through a rain forest. Every page offers new animals, the sound of rain, the sway of the bridges. She shows it all with such wonder and fascination that one can’t read the book without also getting curious and wanting to learn more. She offers that in her Author’s Note as well as providing more information on the animals in the book.

Neal’s art is vibrant and beautiful, showing the play of light through the huge trees. He depicts each of the animals, some well known and others that will be new to the reader. As fog descends in the book, it fills the pages creating mystery and beauty.

A journey worth taking. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Chronicle Books.