Review: Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (9781338150520)

Rashin tells a story from her own childhood when she traveled for the first time to an American beach. She remembers beach trips when her family used to live in Iran. They took a car, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. In America, the subway will take them to Coney Island. In Iran, there were strict beach rules. Women and girls swam separately from the men and boys. Her favorite memory was a day when little boys peeped into the women’s section and the ensuing chaos. In America, even the ice cream flavors are different, but Rashin may have discovered a new favorite with the help of another little girl. At Coney Island, the rules at the beach are less clear, but a new friend is quickly made.

The interplay between the two cultures is lovingly depicted, neither better or worse, just very different from one another. There are universal joys like cold ice cream, sand and waves. At the same time, the two beaches and cultures are shown with their own personality and uniqueness. The illustrations add to the sense of joy with their bright colors and smiling people. While the focus is not on religion, it is an inherent part of the illustrations and the story.

A grand example of why diverse books are so important, this book tells the author’s own story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

The 5 O_Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781419728365)

This second picture book by Andrews takes the reader on a trip through New Orleans. Shorty and his friends had formed a band. They called themselves the 5 O’Clock Band because that’s when they gathered to play. One day, Shorty got so caught up in his music that he missed the meeting time of the band. He tried to catch up with them, bringing the reader along on his walk past New Orleans landmarks and meeting musicians on the streets. Shorty longs to be a great bandleader and as he looks for his band, he learns lessons about being a leader along the way.

Filled with a deep love for the city of New Orleans, this picture book continues the story of Trombone Shorty’s childhood. Andrews’ writing is deft and musical, using repetition and rhythm to great effect. The illustrations by master Collier are lush and beautiful. They depict the richness of New Orleans on the page, filled with yellows and greens.

A jazzy picture book that inspires. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Terrific Tales for Toddlers

New Shoes by Chris Raschka

New Shoes by Chris Raschka (9780062657527)

A child has worn out their old shoes. They have couple of holes in them, big enough to put in a finger. Big enough that water can come in. The child heads off with their mommy to the shoe store. Their feet are measured and are bigger than before. New shoes are chosen off of the display wall. The yellow shoes pinch a bit. The red shoes are comfortable. The child heads off running outside and finds a friend to show their new shoes to.

Written very simply in the child’s voice, this book speaks to the joy of new shoes after wearing a pair out. It is the perspective of the illustrations that make this book so unique and special. Shown only from the child’s point of view looking down towards their feet, the illustrations focus on what the child sees. It’s endearing and very personal. A delight of a picture book for the youngest children, this one will make a great board book too. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Toesy Toes by Sarah Tsiang

Toesy Toes by Sarah Tsiang (9781459813427)

This board book focuses entirely on toes and the joy of discovering them. With a diverse cast of children in the vivid and charming photographs that fill the pages, this one is a great pick for the smallest children. The book has a simple format, bright colors and a rollicking rhythm that keeps the pace brisk and lively. Sure to have everyone playing with their own toes! Appropriate for ages 1-2. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Wee Beasties Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths (9781534410800)

A lovely light-hearted board book that tells the story of a python who just can’t seem to hug things without squeezing them far too hard. Huggy tries to hug a balloon with an explosive result. The mess is even larger when he shows how much he loves cake. When a puppy enters the story though, it’s time for young readers to demonstrate a very gentle hug in the hopes that Huggy will be able to imitate them. Dyckman is an author who always gets her tone for young readers just right and this is no exception. Expect lots of toddler giggles with this one! One of those special board books that has a real story arc, this one is funny and filled with love. Appropriate for ages 1-2. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

3 Picture Books Featuring Families

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780763693558)

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a very long name, one that wouldn’t fit nicely on paper. So her father told her the story of her name. Sofia was her grandmother who loved flowers and books just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who longed to travel the world. Jose was her grandfather who was an artist. Pura was her great-aunt who gave Alma her red thread bracelet. Candela was her other grandmother who stood up for what was right. When Alma asks about her first name, she is told that that is her name only so she can become whatever she wishes to be.

Ending with Alma feeling very proud and connected to each of her names, this picture book celebrates connections to family through naming traditions. It is lovely to see Alma identify with each of the family members and find aspects that are similar to her. I also appreciate having a father have this conversation, strengthening the paternal aspect as well. The illustrations are soft greys and blacks with pops of blues and reds that make the images come alive. A great picture book that will speak to many children. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Frontera My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (9781782853886)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of a young boy who goes with his father north to cross the border and enter the United States illegally. From a small village in central Mexico, they left a place where their family had lived for over 100 years. When food got scarce, they headed north, leaving the boy’s mother and siblings behind. They traveled with “Coyote,” a man who helped them go north. Reaching the Rio Grande, they tried to cross but lost contact with Coyote. Now the boy and his father were alone. They walked and walked, hungry and tired. Even when they reached the United States though, things were not easy. The boy started school and time passed, until they could be reunited with their family again.

Set in the 1980’s, this book tells the story of Alva’s family with the Spanish and English side-by-side on the page. Written with the help of his neighbor, Mills, the book is filled with the harrowing dangers of border crossing. There are times when the two characters are clearly near death, exhausted and starving. By the end of the story though, hope fills the pages and a better future is clear. The illustrations are filled with rich gem colors. There are sapphire blue nights, emerald grass, and topaz land. The illustrations capture the drama of the story and also the closeness and love of the family.

An important book that tells the story of immigration to the United States for a new life. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Barefoot Books.)

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo (9781771472951)

This picture book is a celebration of siblings and shows perspectives of both older and younger siblings spending time together. Throughout the book, the older siblings get the best of the younger ones. The older ones have a treehouse while the younger ones spy on them. The older ones get the couch and the younger ones the floor. The book then moves to the more private relationships of pairs of siblings, of mistakes and apologies. It shows how the older siblings help, how they lend a hand, give a boost. How they are best friends, after all.

The text in this picture book is very simple with much of the story being relayed through the illustrations. Filled with pairs of siblings, the book has a diverse cast of characters who show the universal complicated relationships of siblings. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with a jolly humor at the roles of older and younger siblings. A great pick for sharing with the siblings in your life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Deep and Watery Picture Books

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso (9781452168753)

A little girl heads down to the dock near the water to watch the fish, dreaming of one day swimming alongside many fish at the same time. When a small orange fish jumps out of the water, she catches it in a water bottle and runs home with it. With a black hose, lots of containers, and plants, she creates a new watery space for the fish. When she swims along with the little fish in her pool though, the fish jumps out into a puddle. In that moment, the girl decides to return the fish to the sea.

This wordless picture book beautifully explores a little girl’s connection to nature and her own desire to be part of it and have a piece of it for herself. Through the images, one knows that the little girl means no harm, only to celebrate the fish and her connection to it. Still, readers will know that it will be a problem if the fish is kept from his home for too long. The illustrations are full of the blues of the sea which contrasts with the rest of the scenery that is left barely sketched and uncolored. It is water that really brings the book alive, combined with trees and rushes. A beautiful look at connecting with nature by preserving it. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers (9781481470377)

Finn lives by the sea, On the day that would have been his grandfather’s birthday, it is a good day for sailing and for building a boat, one that will help him find the place that his grandfather told him about, where the ocean meets the sky. So Finn spent his morning building a boat that was suitable for a long journey and then he took a nap. When he awoke, the boat was rocking in the sea and the journey had begun. As Finn got lonely in the open sea, a large golden fish emerges from the water and agrees to show him the way to the place he is searching for. They travel past Library Islands filled with birds and books, an island of giant shells, and a sea of glowing jellyfish. Until they finally reach the place where the ocean meets sky and Finn’s boat soars out of the water and into the sky, all before dinner.

This beautifully rendered book is exceptional. There is a lovely consistency throughout even in the more dreamlike sequences. The text is simple and inviting, creating a world that children will enjoy exploring alongside Finn himself. The book moves from a feeling of grief and loss that is handled with delicacy to hard work in honor of Finn’s grandfather and then into a world of dreams and wonder.

The illustrations move from black-and-white memories of Finn’s grandfather to pastels for the real world of today and then into sharp details and deeper colors of dreams. I love that the dreamworld is the most defined and colorful. Grandfather appears throughout the dreams in the form of the large fish and the moon. His presence is everywhere.

A lovely and layered picture book about grief, memories and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Water Land Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale

Water Land: Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale (9781250152442)

One of the most inventive uses of cut pages that I have seen! This picture book takes water forms and with a turn of the page creates corresponding landforms. A lake becomes an island. A bay turns into a cape. Strait and isthmus compare beautifully. It goes on and on. One will turn back and forth between water and land, stunned by the comparisons and the feeling of a complete ecosystem on the page.

It is the art that is central in this book. With cut pages, the drawings are active around the land and water forms. Boats and trucks cross land and water, diverse people play on the sand, sharks circle in the water. A brilliant book that will have young readers looking at water and land in a new way with plenty of terms to name what they are seeing. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen

The Horse_s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen

The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (9780763689162)

This book of haiku poetry focuses solely on horses and their daily lives. Starting with their time in the field as young foals, the poems include dust baths, rainwater pools, and dappled shade. Moving into the barn, readers get to see humans interacting with horses, feeding them apples, and going on a ride together. The next chapter of poems has an even greater focus on riding, galloping and jumping.

The poems capture the beauty and grace of horses, the unique relationships they have with the people who care for them, and the joy of running fast. Each haiku is a separate moment in time, showing the importance of slowing down, of seeing each moment as unique and in sharing them to create a universal joy of horses.

The illustrations are done in watercolor that dapples the page, creating sunlight and shadow, hoofprints and breezes in the grass. They have a wonderful sense of freedom about them that mirrors the celebratory tone of the haiku, inviting readers to feel movement on the page.

A stellar book of focused haiku. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books that Celebrate Community

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781452155418)

A superb concept book that has a definite Muslim flair that is very welcome. The rhyming story opens with the cone-shaped tops of the minaret. Rectangle is the mosque’s door. Then readers get invited in to see octagon fountains, arches, triangles formed by stairs. The book moves on to gardens, a shared meal at an oval table. It ends with a crescent moon in the sky.

I appreciate that this concept book about shapes offers many shapes that are not the expected ones like cones and crescents. Add in the focus on diversity that is inherent on each page, and this book is certainly something special. The book includes Muslim terms that are used in the text and then defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The illustrations are modern and bright, a mix of tradition and modernity that shines on the page. The shapes are clear and easily found in each image. A gem of a picture book that belongs in all collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin (9781626725621)

Join a family on their Fourth of July celebration at the lake, complete with pie for everyone to share. There are other things that are perfect for sharing too, like a book, a ball and a tree. How about sharing a jump rope and a rhyme to skip by? As the book progresses, more and more children play together along the shore and even more things are shared. There are stick and stones, boats and water, stories, hugs and hideouts. And in the end, fireworks and another slice of pie!

This Fourth of July book truly looks at the holiday through the eyes of a child. It is lit by sparklers and fireworks as evening comes, but the day itself is brightened by all of the time spent as a family and a community. New friends are made; old friendships are strengthened. The illustrations are particularly lovely. They use child-height perspectives as well as other inventive ones to really see the holiday from a little-one’s point of view. The illustrations are realistic, sun filled and pure summer on a page.

Share this one any day of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

You_re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (9781911373292)

On a dark and stormy night, the little animals could not call asleep. Mama Elephant stayed with them. She rocked them in her trunk, repeating “You’re safe with me.” The wind moaned in the trees, awakening the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that the wind carries seeds from faraway into the forest. Thunder sounded startling the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that with thunder comes the rain that waters the seeds from the wind. Lightning flashed and Mama Elephant soothed the little animals with tales of the stars coming back to the sky. Finally, the river burbled and the little ones fell asleep with Mama Elephant’s refrain of “You’re safe with me.”

Told in a folklore-like style with repeating refrains and a firm story structure, this picture book carries the feeling of India with it. It carries a traditional feel, the warmth of Mama Elephant and the comfort she brings with her simple presence almost erases the storm. She uses the cycles of life, plant and animal, to reassure the little animals which makes for a rich story.

The illustrations are amazing and also have a traditional feel to them. Filled with small dots, they are deep with spice and jungle colors. Their richness creates images that children will love to look at, discovering the animals almost hidden on the pages between the leaves of the forest.

A superb bedtime book just right for stormy nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Lantana Publishing.)

3 All-Natural Nonfiction Books

Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong (9781580898119)

Alvin is a deep-sea submersible that seats just three people. In this picture book, readers take a journey with Alvin’s crew down into the sea to collect specimens, survey the site and look for life. Light dims and temperatures drop as Alvin descends. At nearly two miles down, they reach the seafloor. There are small crabs, glassy rocks and vent chimneys. Pompeii worms sway in the current and clams nestle in the rocks. There are other surprises too! Soon the specimens are stored and it’s time to slowly ascend to the surface once more.

There is a gorgeous natural drama to this nonfiction picture book that simply shows what scientists encounter as they explore the depths of the sea. Refreshingly, there is no artificial accidents or incidents used, just the depth itself and the sights to be seen. The book contains information about Alvin, a glossary of terms and a list of organisms with information on each. The illustrations are dramatic and use the play of darkness, beams of light and the different light at various depths very effectively.

Immensely readable, this would make a grand nonfiction addition to a story time. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Fur, Feather, Fin All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang

Fur, Feather, Fin – All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (9781481447096)

Exploring the classes of animals, this nonfiction picture book is written in rhyming text. The book looks at mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, fish, water dwellers, and detritivores. Each class of animal is explained, including their unique attributes and how they are similar to other animals as well. The focus is on the web of creatures around the world, celebrating the varied nature of life.

The book is filled with facts, including a section at the back that offers even deeper information on each class of animal. Far more than just basic types of animals are explored here and young readers will learn new terms for animals like worms, crabs and insects. This very readable book is accompanied by illustrations that show how different these creatures are, from those under the sea to creatures who mature through various stages to those that fly.

An approachable book that offers lots of information in a very flexible and light way. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler

One Day a Dot by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (9781626722446)

This book is a dynamic mix of graphic novel, nonfiction and picture book. It’s the story of the Big Bang and how earth came to be and how life started here. From the initial explosion, the book quickly moves to life on earth, using comic panels to great effect to show various lifeform stages. Dinosaurs emerge and life flourishes until the meteor strike. Still, some life survives and mammals and evolution lead to humans. The book has many answers but still ends with the ultimate question of where that first dot came from.

A great look at the science of the Big Bang and evolution for small children, this is a cleverly designed book. The book remains firmly nonfiction, nicely describing what is happening in short texts. The book also offers a timeline at the end that shows the Big Bang through current day. The illustrations have a gentle whimsy to them that makes the book inviting. A bright color palette of yellows, greens and oranges adds to the dynamic subject. A winner of a read. Appropriate for ages 4-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by First Second.)

3 Swimmingly-Good Picture Books

The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781452133508)

All his life Ken Nedimyer was fascinated by the ocean. He would dive in the Florida Keys to see the coral reefs and wonder at how they grew. Then he started to notice that the reefs were losing color and dying. Ken placed rocks in the ocean and then took them back to use in saltwater aquariums. One of his rocks happened to have a staghorn coral emerge on it, something that was illegal to remove from the sea unless it was growing on a live rock collector’s site. Then Ken had an idea, using this first piece of coral to grow more and more of them. He took those corals back to the dying reef and planted them there, not knowing if they would grow. It was a beginning, one that would show how reefs could be helped to recover, one coral at a time.

This inspirational nonfiction picture books shares the way that one person can help the environment by taking a risk and doing the work. The end of the book shares ways that children can help the coral reefs, with more articles and organizations to explore. The text of the book celebrates the wonder of the ocean and still explains the environmental crisis. That tension between the two makes for a compelling story. The illustrations glow on the page, lit by sunlight filtering through the water. They are luminous and hauntingly beautiful, even the images outside of water carrying a strong sense of place and the ocean.

A great picture book biography to share aloud or give to children who love water themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Dude By Aaron Reynolds

Dude! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781626726031)

This one-word picture book is a delight in different emotions. Two friends head to the beach together for a day of surfing and sun. Platypus and Beaver head into the sea, greeted by a soaring pelican who dips down to the water and back up again, but not without a little humor on the way. Then a shark shows up! But he just wants to join in the surfing fun. When a big wave crashes them onto the beach and ruins their boards, it’s good that they have made a new friend so that the fun can continue.

The use of just one word works brilliantly here. Sharing it aloud is great fun, though those reading aloud will have to look to the pictures for how that particular “Dude!” should be said. It is used for joy, panic, fear, dismay, sadness and much more throughout the story. Thankfully, the illustrations are done by master of humor, Santat. His bright palette and combination of comic panels and large two-page spreads make for a dynamic combination just right for this story.

A bright sunny summer read, dude! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (9780763690458)

Julian and his abuela take the subway home. On the subway, Julian notices three mermaids riding with them. Julian loves mermaids and daydreams about swimming in the deep and turning into a mermaid himself. When they get home, Julian mentions that he’s a mermaid too, but his abuela is busy heading for her bath. While she is bathing, Julian finds flowing hair for himself and a crown, a gown made of a curtain and some lipstick. When Julian’s abuela sees him, she gets dressed and then gives him a necklace. They head out of the house and off to a parade of other mermaids where Julian fits right in.

There is so much to celebrate in this picture book. Julian is an amazing example of a young person expressing their gender identity in a very direct and yet imaginative way. His grandmother is an even better image for people to read about, a grandparent who accepts a child for who they are without question and offers a way forward hand-in-hand. Told in very simple terms, this story is approachable for all ages, even parents and grandparents.

The illustrations are rich a beautiful. On light brown backgrounds, the illustrations are bright and shining. They are filled with body positivity in a variety of ways both subtle and direct. Perhaps the most successful part is Julian’s transformation into a mermaid in a way that still shows the costume and how it was created but also turns Julian’s dream into reality right before the readers’ eyes.

This one belongs in every library, it is sublimely diverse and accepting. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)