Review: Squeak! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

Squeak! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

Squeak! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee (9780525518150)

When a summer breeze tickles a little mouse’s ear early one morning, an entire cacophony follows. With one loud squeak, the mouse starts the world waking up. The chipmunks wake up, sending a pine cone into the river. The trout jump. The elk bonks into a tree launching the eagle off. The sound of her huge wings wakes the bears, whose growls wake the wolves. The wolves howl waking the bighorn lamb who leaps high. Finally, the bison bellows and all of the other creatures in the area awaken too. Except for one little mouse, who is now asleep.

The author plays with sounds in this book as they ripple across an ecosystem in this nature-focused read. From the small mouse squeak to the huge bison bellow, all of the sounds are unique and interesting. Children listening to the story will love the chance to howl like wolves, leap like trouts, or fly like eagles along the way. The book is filled with a sense of joy and wonder as the series of noises awaken all of the animals.

The art is done in two steps by the two creators, one who did the black lines and the other who colored them in digitally. The result is almost like stained glass. The sense of the glow of morning light carries through all of the illustrations. They are united by a strong feeling of being in a shared place too.

A great read aloud for a group, expect lots of participation. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Best Picture Books of 2019

Another by Christian Robinson

Another by Christian Robinson

Cleverly designed, this wordless picture book is a joy to experience.

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community.

the bell rang by james e. ransome

The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome

A harrowing look at slavery and freedom, this picture book reveals the truth of our American history.

Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios

A strong and purposeful look at walls, immigration and family.

Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett 

The entire book has a gorgeous quiet to it that allows space for creativity to thrive.

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly   

The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them.

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco 

I am trying not to simply gush in superlatives about this book.

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

This picture book is about far more than a delicious family treat. Maillard looks at its connection to our nation’s history, the damage caused by the European invasion, and what fry bread means today.
   

Inside Outside by Anne-Margot Ramstein

Inside Outside by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui

So gorgeously designed, the modern illustrations in this book have a harmonious feel to them as readers progress through boats caught in storms, ocean life, and even pounding hearts.

Just in Case You Want to Fly by Julie Fogliano

Just in Case You Want to Fly by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This book is exhilarating and filled with dreams of journeys large and small.

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox

Funny, scientific and zany, this picture book is so much fun.

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Showing a more universal experience of refugees fleeing a war-torn country, the book really allows readers to deeply feel the loneliness and fright of a young child caught in this situation.

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim

There is a beautiful delicacy to this entire book from the fine-lined illustrations to the skillful balancing of seasons changing, new babies and someone passing.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena

A summer treat of a book, this one is worth the ride.

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

Unique and lovely, this is one to beat the drum for!

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.

River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper

There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime.

Saturday by Oge Mora

Saturday by Oge Mora

Another winner from a gifted artist and storyteller.

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

A stellar picture book that reveals the heart of the city and the heart of a child.

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

This is a book willing to be slow and thoughtful. It takes its own time and asks the reader or listener to do the same. It is grounded in the most wonderful of ways.

Stormy by Guojing

Stormy by Guojing

A great wordless picture book about building trust and finding a home.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Dramatic and important, this picture book deals directly in self-esteem and racism.

Vamos Let's Go to the Market by Raul the Third

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third

A top pick for this year, every library should have this rich and vibrant book.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

I love that this book can be read on two levels. There is the simple story of a wall in a book and then there is the political climate about walls right now in America. Agee shows that making the opposite side dangerous and “othering” them is unsafe for everyone.

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

As the parent of a transgender person, this is exactly the sort of picture book our families need and other families must read.

Review: The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora (9781524768287)

Born a slave in the mid-1800’s, Mary was not allowed to learn to read. Even when emancipation came, she was unable to learn to read because she and all of her time was used in making very little money. When a group of evangelists gave her a Bible, she promised herself that one day she would be able to read it. All three of her sons’ births were recorded in that Bible by other people who could read and write. Mary could only leave her mark by the words. After a lifetime of hard work, Mary became too old to sharecrop any longer and took on other jobs like cleaning and babysitting. At well past ninety years old, Mary’s sons read to her but they each passed away, her oldest son dying at age ninety-four. Mary lived on and learned of reading classes taught in her building. She spent the next year learning to read, and finally could read at age 116. She was awarded the title of the nation’s oldest student by the US Department of Education and went on to receive many gifts, some from Presidents of the United States. 

Hubbard cleverly fills in the details of Mary Walker’s early life since very little is known about it. It is a fact that she had her Bible for over 100 years before she could actually read it. It is also a fact that she learned to read that quickly. Chattanooga, Tennessee gave her the key to the city twice in the 1960’s and has a historical marker in her name. Her life stands for the ability to learn at any age, the resilience of surviving slavery, and the power of the written word to bring opportunity into your life. Beautifully, the book doesn’t need to lecture on any of those values, Mary’s life simply speaks on its own.

Mora’s art is done in mixed media of acrylic paint, marker, pencil, paper and book clippings. She uses a heavily textured and painted background in some images that sweeps the sky across the pages. In others, patterns and words fill the space offering glimpses of her future long before she could actually read.

This picture book based on a true story is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Best Poetry Books 2019

Climbing Shadows by Shannon Bramer

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children by Shannon Bramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby

One of the most original and surprising books of poetry for children, this one is worth exploring.

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards.

I Remember Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins 

The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience.

Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Bert Kitchen

A very successful mix of poetry and science, this one is sure to be preyed upon by hungry readers in classrooms and activities.

Rain by Anders Holmer

Rain by Anders Holmer 

The haiku poems range from solemn to merry, some carrying serious weight and others lighter. They mirror the weather, some with lightning and dark clouds while others fill with pink petals and friendship.

Snowman - Cold = Puddle Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas

Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Micha Archer

A winning mix of poetry and science, this is a book that captures the wonder of spring.

Trees by Verlie Hutchens

Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong

A total of fourteen trees are highlighted here in free verse, each one embracing the unique nature of that tree with clarity and brevity.

Review: Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards

Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards

Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards, illustrated by Claire Almon (9781250156075)

When two very different girls get together for a play date, it turns out their dolls are just as different. Penelope is a very sweet princess with a tea set and a pony. Penny is a secret agent with a motorcycle. When danger arrives outside the castle, Penny rushes forward. She defeats the crocodile in the moat and then moves on to take out the werewolf lurking in the woods. Soon Penny and Penelope are riding together on the motorcycle trying to escape, but the werewolf makes its way into the castle tower. It turns out that a princess might be just right for taking out a werewolf as long as she has a cunning plan!

Written entirely in dialogue between the two girls, this book has a breezy quality that makes it perfect for reading aloud. Their voices merge with those of their dolls, and are shown on the page in different colors and fonts. There is a certain amount of doubt in the beginning about whether they want to play together, but as their imaginations take over the adventure begins and both dolls are right in the mix of things. The notion that girls can be secret agents, princesses, robots and more resonates clearly here, and the book celebrates all of the options equally.

Almon’s illustrations are bright and bold. They celebrate both the dazzling gown of the princess doll and the slick leather of the secret agent. The action is captured nicely as are the differences between both girls and their dolls.

This playful picture book is just right for your little princess or secret agent. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Best Elementary Fiction 2019

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Fun and frustrating at the same time, much to everyone’s delight.

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works.

Gittel's Journey An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates

A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child.

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want.

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story.

This Is MY Fort by Drew Daywalt

This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

A wild and interesting new easy reader series.

Review: Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes, illustrated by Nathan Christopher (9781524793029)

This modern twist on Humpty Dumpty is a dark and yet hopeful version. Humpty Dumpty is just one of many fairy tale creatures who works for hours for the King under fluorescent lights. They all work and live in the dark shadow of the wall, in a world where they have been forbidden to dream. But Humpty Dumpty has a dream, a dream of seeing over the wall. He had many ideas and decided to build himself a very tall ladder. He finished the ladder, brought it to the wall, and climbed up, up, up to the very top. But the next morning, all that was left were shattered pieces of egg shell and a broken ladder. The wall and the King had won, or had they?

The rhyming text of this book is so cleverly done. It plays with the convention of rhymes in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, yet it never has a jaunty tune here, playing out more like a funeral dirge. The modern touches of fluorescent lights and TV blend into the fairy tale world that Hughes has created. This is a story that mixes our national issues with political walls along with a capitalistic monarchy to great result, a mix of sorrow and hope that is so powerful.

Christopher’s illustrations are simply incredible. Done in pen and ink with no color, they are filled with fine lines and details. It is those details that create an entire dark world for Humpty Dumpty and the others. Walls are built with skulls, thorns fill the borders, roots tangle the floors. The pages are populated by all sorts of fairy tale creatures, some with specific names like Chicken Little and the Mad Hatter and others who are more general like gnomes, fairies, and giants. These are pages to lose yourself in, looking at the details, seeing new things each time.

Incredible, political and edgy, this picture book is for slightly older children who will enjoy the details and the tone. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.

Review: Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna

Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna

Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna (9781592703036)

This unusual French picture book is deep, questioning and modern. Giselle was born near Florence and Bilbao. She was born made entirely of glass, transparent and capturing the light of life around her. People could also see right into her head, viewing her thoughts as she had them. If she was fearful or worried, people would reassure her when they saw those thoughts. As she grew older though, her thoughts were sometimes very dark and sad. When people saw those things, they grew angry, asking how she could think that way and demanded that she stop. The tension of trying to change caused fractures in her glass body. Finally, Giselle decided to leave and find another place to live. But every place treated her exactly the same. Eventually, Giselle returned home, deciding to live as she is without trying to change, entirely transparent and whole.

This picture book wrestles with the very idea that children have dark thoughts, that they are worried and afraid at times, that their imaginations are not always light and playful. It’s a story about being different and being forced to conform uniquely to the crowd’s ideas. Yet it is also a story about finding oneself, living life on your own terms. The book is about reality, a lovely allegory to the importance put upon conforming and the necessity for us all to live our authentic lives, transparently.

The illustrations are complex and filled with different media. They include collage, different types of pens, markers, and pencils. They are layered and dramatic, capturing the mood of each part of the story. Some of the pages are transparent, looking through Giselle’s thoughts and emotions.

Unique and fascinating, this picture book embraces the dark side of our minds and the beauty of individuals. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith

The Phone Booth in Mr Hirota's Garden by Heather Smith

The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada (9781459821033)

Makio loved spending time with his neighbor, Mr. Hirota in his garden that looked down upon the harbor. He could see his father at work along the shore. Then one day, the tsunami came. It took away Makio’s father and Mr. Hirota’s daughter. Everyone in the village lost someone that day. Silence descended upon the town along with their grief. A noise came that was Mr. Hirota building a phone book in his garden. A phone booth with an old-fashioned phone and no wires connecting it anywhere. Painted white, the booth gave the mourners an opportunity to reconnect with their lost family members, sharing their days from a phone booth on the hill overlooking the harbor.

This picture book is based on a true story of a Japanese man who built a phone booth in his garden to speak with his dead brother, which was then used by thousands of mourners in Osaka to speak to their dead relatives after the tsunami. The tale here is told with a deep grace and empathy that shines on every page. The dramatic impact of the wave both on the land and on the people who live there is shown clearly. The grief afterwards is palpable on the page too.

The illustrations were inspired by Japanese traditional techniques using watercolors, black ink and pencils as well as digital assembly. The resulting images are filled with a powerful mix of light and dark with the black ink giving a dramatic and strong impact.

A beautiful and aching story of loss and community. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.