The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780062430151)
George Washington Carver grew up to be a famous botanist and inventor. In 1921, he spoke before Congress, talking about how the humble peanut could be used to make so many different products. This famous man’s connection with plants and the earth came from an early age in the form of his own secret garden. Born into slavery in 1864, he was kidnapped as an infant along with his mother. His mother was never found, but George was brought back to slavery. George and his brother grew up on the farm, even after slavery was abolished. Every day, George headed to the woods and the garden he was growing there. He learned all about plants without being mocked or teased, soon helping people in the area with their sick plants. He grew up, got an education, and became an Agriculture professor at Tuskegee Institute He also traveled the United States working directly with farmers to answer their questions and improve their farms.
Barretta’s picture book biography of this famous African-American scientist and genius is fascinating and filled with moments of wonder. The frightening kidnapping in his infancy, his start as a slave and then working on a farm for his previous owners, and his incandescent mind finding a way forward to learn and grow all add up to a remarkable life. The text is engagingly written for a compelling read.
Morrison’s art is phenomenal. The browns of the days of manual labor on the farm contrast with the bright greens, growing shoots, and tall trees of George’s secret garden. The two parts of his life could not appear more different.
A fascinating look at a remarkable man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Swim Swim Sink by Jenn Harney (9781368052764)
After three tiny ducks hatch from their eggs: “Crack! Crack! Crack!” “Quack! Quack! Quack!” Their mother leads them down to the pond to swim. The ducklings jump in: “Swim, swim…sink!” Wait, ducks are supposed to float and swim. They try it again, and the duckling sinks every time. Perhaps there’s a solution? Water wings? Scuba gear? A jetski? But nothing seems quite right, until the duckling comes up with a unique solution all their own that involves using their discarded eggshell. Now the story works again and so does the rhyme.
Harney uses broad comedy in this picture book that just has to be read aloud to be enjoyed to the fullest. The rhyme she creates is wonderfully bouncy and jaunty, offering just the right amount of rhythm and speed to be cleverly derailed by the sinking duckling. The humor here is just right for toddlers who will delight in the surprise of the story shifting right in front of them.
The art is bright and bubbly with a merry tone. The sinking duckling in the green-blue water is satisfying and abrupt, adding to the humor of the moment. The final solution the duckling figures out is another great visual moment in the story.
Reading this one aloud will always go swimmingly. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Big Papa and the Time Machine by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (9780062463319)
When a child doesn’t want to go to school because he’s scared and nervous, he talks with his grandfather. His grandfather understands exactly how his grandchild is feeling and takes him on a ride in his car which is also a time machine. It takes them both to see when he left his mother back in 1952 and had to be brave himself. They stop in 1955 to see him working up high on buildings, needing to get beyond being so scared. In 1957, Big Papa had to get over his fears to ask a lovely girl to dance, a girl who would eventually marry him. They then head to 1986 when the child was left with Big Papa. He wasn’t sure if he could take care of a baby all on his own. All about bravery in spite of being scared and nervous, this book shows that it is those moments that define a life.
Bernstrom takes readers on a real ride through history through the eyes of this African-American family. Generations appear and their clear love for one another is evident. Even with a baby being left behind for a grandparent to raise is shown as a chance to save a life and find a new way forward. Children in smaller non-nuclear families will recognize the connection between a sole adult and their child in these pages. It’s particularly lovely to see an African-American man in this role.
Evans makes the pages shine with light as he uses bright yellows and mystical swirls and stars to show the passing of time. Every page is saturated in color, glowing with the connection of the two characters. The child is never declared to be a specific gender in either the text or illustrations, making the book all the more inclusive.
A bright and vibrant look at why to be brave. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780544785816)
Ethan finds it really hard to wait for the maple sap to start running in the late winter. He knows the signs of the time approaching. It’s when he doesn’t have maple syrup for pancakes or oatmeal. His father explains that the days have to get warmer for the syrup to run as well as the nights getting shorter. Ethan thinks he notices it changing, but sometimes gets too eager like not wearing his winter coat anymore. When Ethan’s tooth gets loose, his father tells him that it should fall out around the same time as the sap starts running. Now Ethan has two things to wait for, but one that he can perhaps make happen a bit faster by wiggling it. Still, it takes some time for his tooth to loosen and for the weather to change. Then one day, it’s finally time both for maple syrup and for his tooth to fall out.
Schmidt and Stickney have created a classic tale about patience and waiting for things to happen. Ethan is wonderfully impatient and yet also able to wait, though not really without asking again and again about it. As the darkness refuses to lessen and the days refuse to warm, readers will understand his anticipation. The use of breakfasts to mark a lack of syrup is clever and homey, just to add even more warmth and love to the book. It’s great to see a book with a caretaker father which is not about the lack of a mother or being in a unique family. It’s particularly wonderful to see such a skillful and loving dad.
Karas’ illustrations capture the dark days of winter, the snow that refuses to disappear, and the slow process of the arrival of early spring. The darkness lurks against the warm yellow of the interior of the home, offering real contrast as the pages turn.
A sweet but not syrupy picture book about fathers, patience and food. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are some fiction and nonfiction picture books to look forward to in April!
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood
The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Cat Dog Dog by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Don’t Worry Little Crab by Chris Haughton
Exquisite: the Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao
In My Anaana’s Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok, illustrated by Lenny Lishchenko
In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara
One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby
Rosie: Stronger Than Steel by Lindsay Ward
Sorry (Really Sorry) by Joanna Cutler, illustrated by Harry Bliss
Summer Song by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner and Adam Rex
Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera, illustrated by Ana Sender
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest by Georghia Ellinas, illustrated by Jane Ray
Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion (9780525644620)
When Auntie Clara can’t watch Daniel while his parents go to work at night, he goes along with them to their janitorial job. Daniel had been warm and snuggly in his bed, but had to get dressed and ride downtown. As his parents get their tools and equipment ready to go, they begin to tell him about The Paper Kingdom, which is the land that they clean every night. The throne room is a large room with a long table with papers strewn everywhere. The king is nowhere to be seen. His parents warn Daniel to not upset the queen and to be on the lookout for dragons who seem to like hiding in the bathrooms. Daniel gets upset when he sees how much cleaning work all of the kingdom has left for his parents. They encourage him to instead focus on becoming the paper king in the future and ruling differently.
In her author’s note, Rhee tells of her own childhood as a daughter of night janitors and being taken with them to work sometimes. The playful world created by the parents in the book is warm and loving. Yet it also subtly speaks to the role of power and wealth in the system in a way that children will understand. The hard work by Daniel’s parents is emphasized throughout the picture book with the parents doing physical labor and sneezing and rubbing sore muscles.
The illustrations also emphasize the extent of the workload of the parents, the sweat pouring from them and them often working on hands and knees. The imaginative playfulness is also shown with the red dragons lurking around.
A winning look at parents who work nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
From My Window by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff, translated by Beatriz C. Dias (9781782859772)
Visit a beautiful favela district in Brazil via this bright picture book. A favela is an area in Brazil that is not managed by the government but by the people who live there. Because of this, water and electricity can be difficult to access. From their high vantage point of a window, the narrator can see throughout their favela. They see roofs and windows and people. Sometimes the people are using water to get cooler. At night the lights dim that fireflies appear on the paths. Grey days are brightened with occasional rainbows. Sometimes the air is full of music and poetry, other times the sounds of sadness come. Rain falls, children head to school, and the favela bustles with activity.
Originally published in Brazil, Junior writes of his own home in a favela in this picture book. He plays with themes of dreams and treasure, but also keeps the book firmly grounded in reality. His clear vision of both joy and sadness in the crowded and busy neighborhood keeps the book from being too light, grounding it in the occasional gray day and leaking roofs.
Starkoff’s illustrations are done in acrylic using tropical colors of bright yellows, pinks, greens and blues. The illustrations show so many different types of people, all enjoying the neighborhood together. The images that pull back and show the full favela are incredibly detailed and worth looking at closely.
A dynamic look at a unique type of Brazilian community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Barefoot Books.
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.