Category: Picture Books

3 Hopeful Picture Books

Next Year by Ruth Vander Zee

Next Year by Ruth Vander Zee and Gary Kelley (9781568462820)

A gripping look at the Dust Bowl from the point of view of a child growing up in the 1930s, this picture book combines strong imagery with a poetic prose. The book takes no time in becoming dramatic, showing a dust cloud coming towards the boy: “Like midnight in the middle of the day, without moon and stars.” When he reaches home after crawling for two miles because he can’t stand in the dust and the wind, he discovers his parents despairing and desperate. While they may have been hopeful at one time, the boy knows that he has to help and learns about alternative ways to farm. As the days pass, the rain returns but it’s too late for his parents’ hope to return. Powerful and fascinating, this picture book look at the Dust Bowl is exceptional. (Reviewed from library copy.)

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Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (9781772600377)

A little girl asks her grandfather how to say grandfather in Cree. Her grandfather pauses for a long moment and then explains that he lost his words a long time ago. He then explains to his granddaughter about being taken away from home and put into a boarding school. He wasn’t allowed to speak Cree there at all, only English. The next day, the little girl comes out of school with a book, an introduction to Cree for them to learn together. The author of this picture book is half Cree and never got to speak with her own grandfather about his language and his history. The book is filled with beautiful language, capturing the harshness of the boarding schools and the love of close family as contrasts of cold and warm, hard and soft. Grimard’s illustrations also show the contrasts through images, turning black and white for memories rather than the soft colors used in the modern parts of the book. An introduction to the importance of language, families and identity that is appropriate for small children. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Three Balls of Wool by Henriqueta Cristina

Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono (9781592702206)

Published in partnership with Amnesty International, this picture book uses colors of wool to speak to the conformity required under Communist regimes. The book focuses on a family who flees their home country in the hopes of finding a better, kinder place to live. At first their new country is good. The children can go to school and the parents are less worried. But steadily things change and soon there are only three colors of sweaters for the children to wear. The mother of the family though, realizes that she can make a difference and sews the yarn from the different sweaters into new patterns that incorporate all three. Soon the new designs spread and things begin to change for the better. Cristina has written this picture book analogy from her own experiences as a child. There is a straightforward nature to the writing that allows the analogy to really work, giving it a strong foundation. The art is graphic and strong, leaping off of the page and yet also paying homage to Communist buildings and structures. This is a clever and intelligent book worth discussing in classrooms and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion.)

3 Wintry Picture Books

Two of these picture book welcome winter while another sends it on its way:

Spring for Sophie by Yael Werber

Spring for Sophie by Yael Werber, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781481451345)

Sophie is waiting for spring to come, but she’s not sure how to tell when it arrives. Her mother explains that she should be able to hear the changes, so Sophie is patient and listens while she is outside. Eventually she starts to hear more and more birds in the trees. Still, it was snowy outside. Her father explains that she can use her feet to feel spring coming. So Sophie paid attention to how soft the snow was and eventually, it was less icy and more soft. Still, the snow was there. Her mother tells her to use her eyes and nose. Sophie watches the snow melt, the green return and one day her nose tells her that spring has finally arrived! This picture book celebrates the change of season in a tangible way that children will love. The focus is on the child experiencing the changes themselves with gentle guidance from loving adults. The illustrations celebrate both winter and spring, the slow but steady transformation between seasons. A perfect book to invite exploring outside. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

William_s Winter Nap by Linda Ashman

William’s Winter Nap by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781484722824)

This rhyming picture book tells a story of a boy who is ready for bed. But just as he is about to fall asleep, there comes a tap, tap, tap at his window. It’s a chipmunk and William invites him into his bed to sleep. Again and again, William is about to fall asleep but another animal needs shelter from the cold and the snow. When the last animal knocks, the other animals insist that there isn’t any more room, but somehow they find room for the very large bear with a little help from William. The series of drowsy moments interrupted makes this a great bedtime tale but also a lovely one to share with a group. The illustrations are friendly and inviting, just like William himself. There are opportunities for counting, naming animals and thinking about napping yourself in this very appealing read. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Disney Hyperion.)

Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer

Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Richard Jones

Fox wakes up to snowflakes falling and wonders what he should be doing to prepare for winter. A caterpillar suggests that he wrap up in a chrysalis and wake in the spring while the bat thinks a cave would be best. Turtle heads to the bottom of the pond to sleep in the mud and squirrel quickly gathers food. The geese fly south and the snowshoe hare turns white like the snow. Bear falls asleep in a log. But none of those solutions is right for Fox! He finally meets another fox in the woods who knows just what to do. Beautifully written by Bauer, this book uses repetitive structures to evoke a timeless feel that will be welcoming for the youngest listeners. The illustrations by Jones have a lovely softness to them while also showing the changing season and the beauty of the natural setting. A great pick for celebrating the coming winter. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books to Celebrate YOU!

Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (9781572842243)

This picture book celebrates the power of a fresh haircut, the transformation that comes with it and the empowerment that it brings. Written in second person, the poetry draws the reader in and right onto the barber chair with a drape that becomes a superhero cape and men around that seem presidential and majestic. There is affirmation in this book, a celebration of the barbershop, the culture and the community. The text of the book reads like slam poetry, speaking truths and adding wonder. The illustrations are paintings that capture the place but also the joy of the haircut. The combination is exceptional, a book that belongs in every public library in every community. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

When_s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano

When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9781626722934)

When I was little, I asked every day for an entire year whether it was my birthday and then realized how very long it was between them! So this book is exactly the book I needed as a small child. This picture book ask the question over and over again about when a birthday is coming, dreaming of cake and presents and a party. Fogliano uses rhythm and internal rhymes to give the book a fast paced structure that almost sings. It is quick and funny and infectious. Robinson’s illustrations are a treat with their use of collage and a diverse cast of children longing for their special day. The book ends with a birthday, just as it should. Share this one with children longing for their next birthday or who are just about to have one. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Review copy supplied by Roaring Brook Press.)

The World Shines for You by Jeffrey Burton

The World Shines for You by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Don Clark (9781481496322)

This shining and shimmery board book is done in a large format. The thick pages are filled with metallic shine that is embossed on the pages to create texture that can be felt by little fingers, allowing it to be explored by touch. The text of the book is simple and inviting, exploring all of the ways in which the world shines. There are snowflakes and flowers and forests and leaves, it all comes together in a celebration of that child. A great book to share aloud with one or two children and discuss the pictures together. There is so much to explore here! Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Art-Filled Books for Children

Art Up Close From Ancient to Modern by Claire dHarcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d’Harcourt (9781616894214)

This large format picture book invites readers into a Where’s Waldo type exploration of art. Exploring over twenty works of art, children can search for over 200 details, asking them to look more closely at art than they may have before. Along the way, they will discover new details too. The back of the book provides more information on each piece of art as well as a clever lift-the-flap way to give answers. This book is gorgeously done, the images are crisp and large and span a vast number of years and cultures. A great introduction to art through a vehicle that children will find irresistible. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

Fallingwater The Building of Frank Lloyd Wrights Masterpiece by Marc Harshman

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781596437180)

This picture book focuses on just one on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, Fallingwater. It looks at the process that Wright used to design the building, from viewing the site itself to thinking for a very long time about what he would design. It was at the very last moment that Wright actually put the design on paper so that the owner of the site could see his vision. That vision came to life in Fallingwater, where you can hear the waterfall from every room in the house, stand outside on the balconies, and the floor feels like rocks in a streambed. All of these details will help children better understand the architectural process and how it begins with a vision and idea. The illustrations have a lovely vintage sepia tone and feel with the blue water of the site flowing from page to page, swirling and enlivening the images. A lovely and focused look at a famous architect’s work, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Vincent Can_t Sleep Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (9781101937105)

The duo that created The Noisy Paint Box, which won a Caldecott Honor, return with this look at the childhood and work of Van Gogh. The book focuses on the insomnia that plagued Van Gogh his entire life, even in his childhood when he would head outside in the middle of the night and go out into the heath to watch the stars. He spends much of his time at board school alone and working on his art. As a young man, he has problems working in his uncle’s gallery because of  his moods. The book shows him becoming a full-time artist and heading into the countrysides of Belgium and England. He is a man who understands darkness and night more profoundly than most. This picture book carefully captures the symptoms of Van Gogh’s mental illness, showing him struggling with mood and even hospitalized for a time. The book doesn’t dwell on this, but shows it as part of the complexity of the artist and his gifts. The illustrations are rich and layered, paying homage at times to Van Gogh’s work but at other times standing apart as a witness. Another strong artist biography from this pair that is worth the read and the space on your shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

Three Tall Tales in Picture Book Form

Humpty Dumpty, a southern twist on a classic, and a fresh new adventure await:

After the Fall by Dad Santat

After the Fall by Dad Santat (9781626726826)

After Humpty Dumpty has fallen from the wall and gotten as repaired as he can be, he continues living his life but with a fear of heights. He can’t sleep in his bunk bed or even reach for the cereal at the grocery store that is on the top shelf. He thinks often of the wall and finds himself watching birds flying. Then one day, he decides to start making paper airplanes. He practices and practices until he makes a perfect one shaped like a bird. But what will he do when it flies over the wall? Santat has a gorgeous way with pacing a story, allowing it to naturally grow and build towards the climax. Here there is a delight of a twist at the end, just enough to transform the story of Humpty Dumpty to another tale entirely. It is handled with care and precision, making the reveal very special. The Caldecott Award winner’s art is lovely here, done with subtlety and style with interesting perspectives. A traditional tale retold into something very special. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Marco, a young fox, had lots of questions about the way the world works. The other foxes weren’t interested in his questions, so Marco headed to the harbor where he found a ship that was lost. The deer in charge of the vessel admitted they weren’t good sailors and were looking for crew members. Marco offered to sail with them and so did a group of pigeons looking for adventure. The journey was harder than expected with storms, windless stretches and pirates! Their new crew weathered all of the challenges by working together and eventually found the island they were searching for. Were their adventures done? Not yet!

This picture book is so visually beautiful. The illustrations are detailed and lush. There are small touches throughout, a sense of vast sea and sky, and a wonderful playfulness that enhances the adventures. The text is restrained and allows the images to really shine. This picture book is perfect for young pirates looking for a new beautiful adventure. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes

Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes (9781580897181)

A southern take on the classic Princess and the Pea story, this version of the story is set in South Carolina. Ma Sally is one of the best cooks in town, known for her black-eyed peas. Her son John is interested in getting married and several girls are interested in him, but Ma Sally worries about their skills in cooking. So she sets up a test for them. It’s not until a girl from out of town, named Princess, enters the contest that John realizes he’s finally found his match in personality and cooking. Himes takes care at the end of this book to ensure that Princess is not just looking for a husband. Instead there is a focus on the power of women and her right to choose after getting to know John a bit more. The illustrations have folksy simplicity to them that suit the story. A great African-American version of the classic story that puts the choice back into the hands of the couple rather than the mother. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)