Black and White by Debora Vogrig

Cover image for Black and White.

Black and White by Debora Vogrig, illustrated by Pia Valentinis (9780802855756)

On a page full of black with a few white-lit windows, White wakes up. White spreads light through the sky and enters the house. Black hides under the bed. The two push and pull, wrestling a bit, then they head off together. Together they make neat crosswalk lines and then octopus ink messy splatter that turns into a spotted Dalmatian dog. The friends head to the forest of birch trees, to the Poles to see polar bears and penguins. They reach the savannah and run with zebras and the jungle where panthers stalk. In the evening, Black is the one who stretches out and fills the space. White begs for one more game, one more song, one more story and finally the two dazzle the night sky together.

This book explores colors, opposites and a playful friendship between white and black, light and dark. The text invites readers into their friendship and play, showing how the two colors balance one another, create surprising designs together, and form shadows and lightness. The interplay between the two opposites is cleverly done, showing how friends don’t have to agree or be similar to have a strong friendship.

The art in this picture book is done entirely in black and white with no touches of other color. The use of shadows, shapes, light sources and more create a dynamic style on the page, inviting readers to look closely, guess at the animals before the text reveals them and enjoy immersion into this two-tone world.

A stirring look at black and white, colors and opposites that inspires. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole

Cover image for We Want a Dog.

We Want a Dog by Lo Cole (9781728238173)

This rollicking picture book gallops away asking questions about what sort of dog you want. Do you want one with hair or one that’s bare? One that races or one that digs in muddy places? One that barks or one that farts? One that pulls or one that drools? The book continues to show all sorts of doggy personalities on its pages with dogs that roll in stinky stuff, dogs with fleas, dogs that sniff, dogs that howl and many, many more. Readers exploring adopting a dog will find themselves inspired with all the different characters here, though for some the twist ending may be exactly what they were thinking!

Cole’s book takes rhyming and literally runs with it. The rhymes are bouncy and fun, playing along in triples throughout the book. They are never forced, instead feeling silly and light as the book progresses. The various sorts of pooches are enjoyed here, complete with naughty behaviors that will have kids giggling.

The art in the book is done in reds, blacks, whites and grays. It is bold and graphic, showing so many types of dogs and their personalities. From sitting in a checkered chair to barking out windows to pulling on leashes, each element is cleverly drawn.

A dog-gone good time. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

The Fastest Girl on Earth! Meet Kitty O’Neil, Daredevil Driver by Dean Robbins

Cover image for The Fastest Girl on Earth.

The Fastest Girl on Earth! Meet Kitty O’Neil, Daredevil Driver by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (9780593125717)

As a child, Kitty O’Neil loved to go fast. She loved running, riding on the lawn mower with her father, and swimming and diving. Though she lost her hearing due to a childhood fever, it never slowed Kitty down. Kitty grew up to be a stuntwoman in movies. She also set records as the fastest water skier and boat racer. Then Kitty set her sights on being the fastest driver. Her car was called the Motivator and it was rocket powered, capable of going over 300 mph, if Kitty could steer it at that speed. The woman’s land speed record at the time was 308 mph. Kitty went 618 mph! She became an American hero in the 1970’s even having an action figure made in her likeness. Kitty continued to be a champion of children with disabilities and held records in an incredible range of sports.

Robbins’ book about Kitty O’Neil is just as fast paced as her records. His writing is brisk, opening the book with Kitty in her rocket car and closing the book with her record drive. This frames the story very successfully, as young readers will want to know what happens on that historic drive. Robbins also captures the breathlessness of the countdowns, the danger of the drive, and Kitty’s own fearlessness. It’s a marvelous rocket read of a book just right for the subject.

The art, done in pencil, watercolor, acrylic and digital, get readers right into the cockpit with O’Neil. They capture her joy at going fast and breaking records. With bright colors, they also show the dynamic moments of the countdowns, the acceleration, the determination and the eventual win.

A wild ride of book about a deaf woman driver who became a hero. Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Goodbye Old House by Margaret Wild

Cover image for Goodbye, Old House.

Goodbye, Old House by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ann James (9781736226452)

A child knows they are moving, so proceeds to say goodbye to their old home. It’s the last time they will fish in the river, the last time to run through the trees, the last time to pet this pony. It’s the last time to lay by this fire, the last time to sleep in this house. They say goodbye to each room from the hall, leaving a message for the new owners on the wall. Then it’s time for a lot of first moments. The first time to jump over these cracks, the first time to push open the gate, and the first time entering the new house. They say hello to all of the new rooms from the hall. They discover a window seat in their new room, complete with a message from the previous child who lived there.

Wild is a master storyteller. In this picture book she takes very simple lines of farewell and discovery and turns them into a story that is immensely poignant. The angst of moving, of losing all the beloved elements of your life comes full circle here as the child celebrates the current moment of firsts and hellos to their new home. The text is utter simplicity, allowing the emotions to come through without being described at all.

The illustrations by James are captivating. She shows the androgynous child and their homes in stark black and white with engaging expressions and body language. Beyond the windows of the homes and outside, the world is awash is color from the watercolor of the flowing river to the sun on the hills to the orangey tones of the new home.

A moving book that takes time to deal with goodbyes but also celebrates new discoveries too. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Blue Dot Kids Press.

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clark

Cover image for When We Say Black Lives Matter.

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clark (9781536222388)

This picture book looks at the Black Lives Matter movement and explains it to young children in a way they can understand. Using rhythm, repetition and rhyme, the picture book is engaging while explaining larger societal issues. The book focuses on concepts that include respect, fear, remembrance, freedom and being enough. The book directly speaks to the Black child, explaining the vitality and importance of the protests and incorporating the protests into a message of self-worth, joy and music.

Clark’s writing is masterful. She uses rhythm and rhyme so successfully here, moving the words like jazz music or the tempo of drums. She uses rhythm to have her words become protest chants and then transforming anger into sorrow, remembrance and tears into power. She shows how all of the emotions, negative and positive, can be used as a demand for change.

The illustrations are large, colorful and bold. They move from a family with a new baby and the warm reds and yellows of their home to starry nights of protest done in deep blues to the poison green of the trouble that comes. She incorporates stained-glass windows into several of the images, showing the timelessness and importance of the demand for racial justice.

An importance picture book for public library collections. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza

Cover for King of Ragtime.

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza (9781534410367)

Released September 14, 2021.

Scott Joplin was a child who loved to listen to the sounds around him rather than using his own voice. He was the son of a man who was once enslaved. Their home was full of music with his father fiddling, his mother playing banjo and singing, and his siblings playing instruments too. Scott played the cornet. To find work, the family moved north to Texarkana where Giles found work laying tracks for the railway. Scott’s mother found work as a housemaid for a wealthy white family who happened to have a piano. When Scott came along to help, he saw the piano and started to play when he had time. Eventually, the Joplin family was able to purchase a piano for Scott and traded housework for lessons. Scott loved learning about the piano and music, but most of all he loved composing his own songs. He played all over town, and eventually made his way north to play in saloons and eventually in Chicago where he heard ragtime for the first time. Scott went to Sedalia, Missouri where he went to college and composed music. He tried to get his songs published and finally found a man willing to take a chance on a Black unknown composer. That’s how “Maple Leaf Rag” became a national sensation.

Constanza’s writing is full of rhythm and talks about music throughout. From his mother singing hymns to his family playing together to learning piano to getting work playing and composing, the entire book dances along to the importance of music in Joplin’s life. The writing also incorporates lots of sounds like the chirping of cicadas, the swish of brooms, the plink of the piano, and the OOM-pah! The writing is full of energy and tells the story of Joplin’s life with style.

The illustrations are bright and full of color and light. They have elements of quilts that fill the ground with patterns. The skies are blue with swirling clouds that dance in the sky. The towns are full of colorful buildings. Everything is inspiration for Joplin’s music, from the trains to the chickens to the flowers to the towns. It all comes together into one warm and bright world.

A jaunty and rhythmic biography of a musical legend. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

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

Hurricane by John Rocco

Cover image for Hurricane.

Hurricane by John Rocco (9780759554931)

The boy who narrates this story of a hurricane has a neighborhood dock that he loves. No one ever uses it except for him. It’s old, splintery and weathered, and just perfect. He can fish from the dock, catch crabs and swim. One day when he returned home from the dock, the air felt different and his father was putting boards over the windows. A storm was coming. The winds were big enough to shake the whole house and the river crept up the street. The next morning, the boy headed back to his dock, ready to fish. But his neighborhood looked different and the dock was destroyed. The boy asked everyone for help rebuilding the dock, but they were busy fixing their homes. So he knew he had to do it himself. Day after day, he worked on the dock all alone. Just when he was about to give up, help arrived. The whole town helped rebuild the dock into something that they could all share.

Caldecott-Honoree, Rocco, continues his exploration of natural disasters with this third book following Blizzard and Blackout. Rocco captures the joy of being near water, both when you have a treasured place that you can use alone and when it’s bustling and shared. The connection with nature is evident throughout the book, with the unnamed protagonist taking solace during the storm by imagining himself under his dock. The hard work the boy does to get his special place back is then supported by the community and shows the power of helping one another.

Rocco’s illustrations are full of sunshine and water at first. They show how the boy loves his time at the dock. Then the storm comes and Rocco has captured the unique lighting of pre-storm hours and then the darkness that descends. The devastation afterwards is realistic and dramatic, with trees down, shingles on the ground, and a flooded road. The moment that the boy sees his dock is particularly heart-wrenching and also a moment of resilience.

This picture book celebrates nature and community even in moments of devastation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Chez Bob by Bob Shea

Cover image for Chez Bob.

Chez Bob by Bob Shea (9780316483117)

As a rather lazy alligator, Bob comes up with a great plan to get birds to fly right up to his mouth. He opens a birdseed restaurant on his nose. After seasoning his birdseed with his favorite spices, so the birds would taste delicious, news soon spread about his restaurant among the bird community. Soon a small town grew around Chez Bob. Bob wanted to support the community, so he coached the bird basketball team and joined a book club. When a large storm came, Bob offered all of the birds shelter in his mouth. This was his perfect opportunity to eat them all! But he could hear them laughing and talking together and then looked around the empty town. He knew what he had to do.

Shea’s books are always a delight. This one contains just enough adult level humor that parents will enjoy reading it to their children multiple times. Just the book club page alone had me guffawing aloud, and there are lots of moments like that. While Bob may start out as a villain, I agree with him that hero isn’t too strong a word by the end of the story. There is great delight in watching Bob decide what he should do, all for the community good that he accidentally created.

Shea’s illustrations are large and bold, full of bright colors. They feature all sorts of little birds who come to Bob’s community and to Chez Bob too. Bob’s own scheming face is a delight as he plots to eat the birds. By the end though, the scheming grin turns into a genuine smile.

A delicious and sharp-toothed book about the transformation of a villain. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

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Bright Star by Yuyi Morales (9780823443284)

Morales returns with her first picture book since her remarkable Dreamers. A fawn awakens in the desert, alive and bright. The fawn and its mother walk across the landscape, past lizards, jackrabbits, cacti and more. Sometimes, the fawn must lie low and hide so that it is safe, ducked low down among the spikes of the cacti. If the fawn feels afraid, it must shout it out loud, stuck at the endless concrete wall with barbed wire on top. The fawn isn’t alone. When rain comes, it offers secrets of the desert as it bursts into bloom, full of imagination. Just right for the fawn, or child, to realize that they are a bright star in our world.

Written in a combination of English and Spanish, this book speaks to the experience of children who have immigrated to the United States, whether through the desert and the past the wall or in another way. It is also a more universal celebration of children and their positive impact on the world, serving as a source of hope and opportunity to move beyond where we are now. Morales’ writing is beautifully simple and yet also evocative. Her weaving of the two languages is particularly striking.

Morales uses a wide variety of media in her illustrations. She uses handmade wool yarn from Oaxaca to weave words and textures. She used textures from photographs of concrete and fencing. She also created the amazing texture and feel of the children’s faces in the book using a photograph of a baby’s arm at a migrant shelter in Sonora. The entire book has an energy around it that calls us to pay attention to what is happening at the border and to children there.

Powerful and striking, this book calls for justice by showing the beauty of the people caught in the broken system. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.