Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson (9781547600564)

Even though her father got a new job, Ryan and her family have had to move into a smaller and older house because money is still a problem. Ryan though is able to see the positive in most things, though maybe not her brother some days. She loves to cook, coming up with unique combinations to make good food even better. One thing she struggles with is public speaking, like on Easter where no matter how much she practices her part, she can’t manage to say it into the microphone in front of the congregation. Maybe this is the year? So when Ryan’s class is working on a talent show, Ryan has to figure out how to turn her passions into performance. She is also navigating changing friendships and mean girls who seem intent on pushing her to the side. Ryan may not want the spotlight, but she does bring sunshine wherever she goes.

Watson, winner of a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award, has created a book for young readers that offers a modern look at being an African-American girl in Portland. The city is tied into the story very successfully, drawing people to beloved places to taste and explore along with Ryan. While the title is full of optimism, the book looks at important issues for elementary-aged children such as race, acceptance, self-esteem, and friendships.

Ryan isn’t a Pollyanna character, rather she is a girl who has resilience and optimism. She is distinctly her own person and Black girls will see themselves as she navigates the many changes in her life. She is smart, creative and positive.

A rival to Ramona, get this one in the hands of young readers. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari

Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari

Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Jonathan Voss (9780399548420)

The story of a great horned owl family is told in dramatic fashion using only haiku poems in this picture book. A pair of great horned owls find a squirrel’s nest and claim it as their home. The mother bird lays three eggs in the nest, losing one when the crows attack her. Now there are two eggs left to guard and keep warm. Soon two owlets emerge from their eggs, eating the prey that Mama and Papa bring to them. The woods has lots of dangers like hunting hawks and foxes waiting for an owlet to fall. Mama is there to protect them though, until it is time for them to take wing and find a home of their own.

Through her series of haiku poems, Gianferrari creates moments that build on one another into a full story of the first months of egg laying and owlets growing up. Focusing on the strength and power of the most commons owls in North America, along with their exceptional parenting skills, the book also reveals the dangers they face despite their size.

Voss’ illustrations are a gorgeous match to the beauty of the poetry. Illustrated in sepia ink and watercolor, with digital color added, these illustrations captures the various moments with skill and drama. The quiet moments are just as powerful as the action ones, filled with dappled forest light and the incredible creatures.

A marvelous book of nature poetry for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (9780593124178)

Aster has moved with her family away from the city and to a boring woods on a rural mountain. At first, she thinks they are just there for a brief time as her mother tries to deal with the lethal bird migration, but they have actually moved to the mountain permanently. When her father forces Aster out from in front of her video games, she discovers some oddities about her new home. There’s an old woman who has a herd of woolly dogs. The woman gives Aster one of the dogs, a little one with no wool. After that, Aster and her new pet discover a very strange rock in the middle of the woods, and it turns out to be a trickster that grants wishes. After a series of disastrous wishes, Aster gets things back on track. But things may still be awry, since now the seasons are failing to change, a fox is after a lot of power, and the old woman may have died. It’s up to Aster to figure out how to save the mountain that’s her home.

Pico takes the zany energy of cartoons and channels it into a book filled with twists and turns that are surprising and delightful. The reader never quite knows what is going to happen next. The book has time bubbles that change the way time is perceived, magic power stored in staffs, and talking dogs. It’s chaotic at times but in the best possible way and has a merry tone where one knows things will work out in the end, or perhaps take another twist before that happens.

The art is modern and full of humor. From woolly dogs to mountains with faces to tiny chestnut knights, each one is done with personality to spare. The art captures plenty of action, battles and magical moments.

A thrilling graphic novel with lots of love and laugh with. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780449812914)

Mother Jones is mad. She is furious at the treatment of children who work in the mills for a paltry 2 cents an hour to help keep their families from ruin. She saw the issue first hand and called the newspapers. But the newspapers are owned by wealthy men who were friends with the owners of the mills. So Mother Jones came up with a plan to create a protest march from Philadelphia to New York City. The march started on July 7, 1903. They got a lot of media attention, and Mother Jones changed her plan and decided to march to Washington, D.C. Mother Jones presented her arguments in every town and then the children put on a play. It took them fourteen days to reach New York City and six more to reach D.C. They didn’t get to see the President, but the march did its job anyway and laws changed to forbid child labor in the United States. 

Winter tells the complex story of Mother Jones and her fight to stop child labor in the United States. By focusing on the march itself, the picture book stays sharp and fast paced. He uses quotes from Mother Jones in the text as well as on the endpapers which really capture the spirit of Mother Jones and her willingness to fight for others. 

The illustrations center on Mother Jones in her black and white outfit standing out against a pastel world that is almost foggy in its softness. This works very well for this subject, showing the impact of a person willing to make sacrifices and stand up to demand change.

A dynamic look at the unique historical figure of Mother Jones and her continued impact on our world. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

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.

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.

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming

Honeybee The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (9780823442850)

On a summer morning, a new bee hatches in a hive. She is Apis mellifera and must rest before she can do anything. She eats and grows stronger, her color changes from gray to a yellow orange. Though she is destined to fly eventually, first she must do many other jobs for her hive. She tends to the larvae, checking on them and feeding them with liquid from her glands. After eight days, she changes jobs and starts tending to the queen bee. At 12 days old, she heads to another job and starts building honeycomb then fills it with the nectar the other bees bring in. Her next job is to guard the hive from predators and other bees from different hives. Then finally, on her 25th day, it is time for her to fly. And does she ever fly! She flies for over 500 miles total and visits over 30,000 flowers! 

Frankly, I have never understood honeybees better than I do now after finishing this nonfiction picture book. Fleming writes in such an engaging way, inviting readers to wonder when Apis will actually get to fly for the first time. The various changes to Apis’ body as well as the variety of duties she has in the hive are very interesting and make the species all the more fascinating. 

Rohmann’s illustrations bring readers right into the hive, seeing it from a bee’s point of view. His rich illustrations are filled with honey gold and bright summer skies that beckon to readers, inviting them to lean in even closer.

A great science and nature book, there’s plenty of buzz about this one! Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)

Omar and his family have moved, which means that Omar has to start at a new school. He lives with his mother, father, older sister and younger brother. One of their new neighbors doesn’t seem happy to have Muslim neighbors, glaring at them through her fence and not being friendly when approached. Omar is also facing a bully at school. Daniel has even told him that because Omar is a Muslim he could be kicked out of the country! Luckily, Omar also has a new best friend and a family who can support him as he learns the ins and outs of being Muslim in America.

Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable. Omar himself seems the world through a silly and engaging lens, where teachers may be aliens and he is a magnet for trouble. That trouble includes spitting on his little brother in bed, getting lost during a field trip, and asking Allah to bring him a Ferrari. The book has lots of illustrations, making it just right for elementary-aged readers who need some breaks in their text. They will find that the humor and format make for an engaging read.

A winner of a children’s book that is about prejudice, friendship and community. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)

Originally published in 2009, this award-winning Swedish import is written by the author of the Detective Gordon series. One summer day, Esther found a dead bumblebee and decided to give it a burial ceremony. The narrator of the story, a little boy, helps her by writing a poem about death. The two head out to the secret clearing to dig a grave and plant seeds. Then they set out to find more dead creatures with the help of Puttie, who was a very good crier. They form a business called Funerals, Ltd. and spend their day doing a variety of funerals for animals of all sorts, all in their secret clearing. The final funeral of their day comes when a blackbird hits a window and dies in front of them. They all felt the sadness of that death. And then the next day, they did something different.

I adore Nilsson’s approach to children’s book with his deep understanding of the way that children think and act. This book feels like my childhood, dealing with deep and serious thought one day and moving on. It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.

The illustrations by Eriksson really add to the mix of sorrow and sunshine. They are dappled green and gold. Children will appreciate that the dead animals are shown to the reader, tucked into their boxes or on their way to being buried. The final pages with all of the headstones and graves are both humorous and touching.

Funny and serious, just like childhood. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Gecko Press.