The Blue Table by Chris Raschka

Cover image for The Blue Table

The Blue Table by Chris Raschka (9780062937766)

A blue table tells the story of a family coming together again and again around it. It starts with the blue table having a flower in a vase and a child having a glass of milk. One parent joins the child with some coffee. Another parent joins in and books, newspapers and crayons appear as they share cinnamon rolls. They get going after the table is cleared. Then items from the garden appear: carrots and potatoes. Items from the store and the farm: onions, butter, corn and a turkey! They make an apple pie from scratch and gather flowers for a larger vase. Then a leaf is added to the table, making it longer. A tablecloth and more plates are placed on the blue table, until more family gather together, holding hands to celebrate with one another.

This picture book is focused and simple, giving readers just a view of the blue table itself and never seeing the humans that use the table until we see their hands towards the end of the book. The use of different sorts of cups and plates to show the ages of the family members is clever, along with their books, newspapers and crayons. The extension of the table to be ready for a shared feast is marvelous and offers a touch of surprise for the reader.

Focused on a table that brings a family together both every day and then on special occasions, this book is a celebration of the simple things. The child’s art work in the early pages can be seen at the end as placecards for the loved ones around the table. The art is free flowing and joyous, the blue table and the various objects full of bright colors.

Just right to share around any holiday that gathers people around a table together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Cover image for I Am the Storm

I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell (9780593222751)

This picture book focuses on four types of storms that children may encounter where they live: tornado, blizzard, hurricane, and wild fires. The family with a tornado nearby has a party in their basement together with cards and books by flashlight. When the storm had passed, they cleared up afterwards. When the blizzard came to another family, they bundled up and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace. After the storm, they shoveled the snow and made a snowman. When the wildfires came, that family left the area and went camping. They could still see the smoke. When the fires were out, they swept up ashes and washed windows. When the hurricane came, that family moved away from the coast to stay with cousins and then returned home when the storm was over.

This picture book is a glimpse of the power and impact of nature and its storms. It also shows how preparations can help keep everyone safe during a storm, no matter what kind it is. The book ends with deep empathy for how scared children can be during storms and a way for children to see themselves in nature and even the storms that pass and bring calm behind them. The text is simple and reads aloud well, inviting readers to see storms and fires as events that need respect for their power but don’t have to have children living in fear.

The illustrators use a wide-ranging color palette to evoke the different kinds of storms. With black and purple storm clouds, the eerie orange color of a tornado arrives. The icy blue of winter blizzards illuminates the entire house. The hurricane too arrives with purple swirling with black. After each storm, there is a lightness to the illustrations, a sense of new space in the images.

As climate change makes storms and fires more severe, this is a timely book to share. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.

My Family, Your Family! by Kathryn Cole

My Family, Your Family cover image

My Family, Your Family! by Kathryn Cole, illustrated by Cornelia Li (9781772601336)

Told in the simplest language, this picture book explores different sorts of families in a way that even the smallest children will understand. Some families have triplets, others have older siblings and pets. Some families have two mommies and others have two daddies. Some families share children in different houses. Some families are large and multigenerational, others are just two people. Some families are blended, some children are raised by their grandparents. Some families live together, others connect from far away. But all kinds of families are still families and still full of love!

With simple sentence fragments, Cole writes in a way that is inclusive and deeply empathetic. She creates a space here for children to think of their own families, or those of their friends, and realize that any sort of family is a good one. Li takes that openness and creates gorgeous families that represent all sorts of families, some that are not called out specifically in the text. She takes care to include people of different faiths as well as people of all races, genders and ages.

Representative of many families, this is a book where children will see themselves reflected. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Second Story Press.

While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou

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While You’re Away by Thodoris Papioannou, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis (9781662650055)

When you leave nature behind and head indoors, nature keeps on happening all the while. Mother deer may search for blueberries for their fawns. Squirrels might leap closer to their sweethearts. Lizards still laze in sunny spots among the strawberries. A fox may be asleep with her babies. Bears may be drinking from the river. One after another, the activities of nature and wildlife continue, even when a human isn’t there to witness it all. But if you do happen to be out in nature, stay quiet and still and soon you will be witnessing all of the small activities that make up a day in the life of the creatures around you.

This European import speaks to that realization that children suddenly have that things go on even when they are absent, and not just after bedtime! Here nature, insects and animals are used as the example with real impact, as they have lives just like the children do. Their bustling busyness continues even when a child leaves the side of the lake, exits the forest or enters their house. Papioannou uses marvelously specific examples, showing the beauty of nature and also the reasons the animals are doing what they do.

The art is fantastic, creating a modern and colorful vibe where each turn of the page is surprising. Readers quickly move from one animal to the next, from sun dapples to the brilliance of a red fox in a black cave, from a dragonfly near the lake to an owl still and hidden in the trees. The book is a series of discoveries, much like sitting in nature can be.

An inviting look at nature and how it carries on whether you are there or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by minedition.

It’s My Tree by Olivier Tallec

It’s My Tree by Olivier Tallec (9781525305474)

A squirrel shares his adoration for his tree in this picture book. But then he gets paranoid, wondering what would happen if someone else thought it was actually THEIR tree! Or if his pinecones were their pinecones! So the squirrel decides to make sure that everyone knows it’s his tree. Perhaps a gate or a wall? A wall so long you can’t walk around it! Then the wall could end in another wall, surrounding the tree and keeping everyone else out. But wait, what’s on the other side of the wall? It could be a better pinecone, a bigger one, or even a better tree!

A master author/illustrator gives us a picture book about the fear of missing out as well as paranoia about others and a fear of them. This book runs with that, showing the wild result when it is taken to its extreme. The use of a jittery squirrel is just right, tending his pinecones, protecting his property, frantic with worry and stress. It’s a book for our times, speaking to all of the elements that create a similar reaction in ourselves and how we protect our own trees and pinecones.

The art is done in bright yellows and oranges, creating a real energy on the page and strengthening the tension the squirrel is experiencing. His facial expression is almost always alarmed, ears stretched high and eyes wide. He almost darts across the page.

Don’t miss out on this one! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert

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The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Valerio Vidali (9781592703128)

The elephant was staying in the shadows, not speaking or engaging with anyone. The other animals decide to try to cheer him up. First, the monkey told the funniest joke he knew, but the elephant didn’t even smile. The ostrich sisters did a dance, but elephant didn’t even move. The crocodile brought him a treat of acacia leaves, but the elephant just sighed. Then a small white mouse came up out of breath and asked to rest near the elephant. The elephant asked if the mouse was there to tell a story, but she just wanted to rest. So the two of them sat quietly together. The mouse eventually shared part of her story, making the elephant cry. The mouse cried too. Finally, when they were done crying, the elephant felt lighter and was able to stand up. The two headed off to find the mouse’s home together.

Translated from the French, this picture book about emotions and sadness shows how separate these blue emotions can make us feel. The elephant remains in the shadows, silent and sad, not even able to weep. Then the smallest of creatures with the simplest of gestures shows empathy. It’s that shared experience, the silence together, the moments taken, not to distract but to be with one another. The power of that, shown in such simple ways, resonates throughout the book.

The illustrations are full of contrasts. The pages with the elephant glow with blues and lurk with dark shadows. The elephant is almost a mountain at night, large and unmoving. The other animals are bright and colorful, the sky a beaming blue and the ground a neon yellow-green. The mouse arrives as the sun is lowering in the sky, creating a synergy between her side of the page and the elephant’s that shows their growing connection as well.

A deep look at sadness and the power of empathy to overcome it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal

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My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (9781984814609)

A mother-daughter team tells this story of being a transgender Black girl. After playing dolls with her sister, Trinity started to think about the doll’s long hair. Trinity had short hair because due to her autism she struggled with how itchy it got as it grew longer. Trinity also knew though, that as a transgender girl she needed long hair. Her mother was at a loss until her older brother had an idea. Visiting a beauty parlor, they browsed the wigs, but none of them were quite right. That’s when they decided to create Trinity her own rainbow wig. Her mother spent the night creating the wig, the first one she had ever made. Using strands of purples, pinks and blues, she created a one-of-a-kind wig with lots of spring. It was a rainbow just for Trinity.

The creators of this book are advocates for black and transgender rights. This book is about a little girl who clearly knows who she is. I appreciate that it is not a coming out story, but instead continues the story of one child’s transition to who she is, giving her the space to speak for herself and also a way forward supported by her entire family. The book exudes acceptance, warmth and love.

Twink’s art is bold and bright. They have included a family pig, who joins the family in all of the brainstorming and shopping, even trying out some nail polish in the store. This added touch of whimsy joins a strong Black family depiction full of modern elements and a real sense of home.

A great picture book that demonstrates intersectionality, acceptance and love on every page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry

Cover image for Swashby and the Sea

Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780544707375)

Swashby spent all of his time on the sea. He loved the sea, and the sea understood him better than anyone else. He lived as close to the sea as he could in a small house. His life was just how he liked it: simple and serene. That is until one day a little girl moved in next door. Swashby shut himself in his house, fed their gift of cookies to the seagulls, and wrote a message in the sand: NO TRESPASSING. But the sea changed it a little, leaving only SING, which the little girl proceeded to do while dancing on Swashby’s deck. The next message is turned into W-ISH, and when the little girl decides to wish on a starfish, Swashby comes out to show her how to do it properly. The next message has her playing on the beach, and Swashby find himself showing her how to make sandcastles that won’t topple. After Swashby again retreated, the water didn’t and soon the sea had pulled the little girl out with it. The choice was clear for Swashby.

This picture book is a stellar marriage of story and illustrations. Ferry offers two great characters here, the solitary seaman and the charming little girl. Oh and one more, the sea herself, who plays such a role in the story with both her support of Swashby and in her meddling with his messages. The text is just the right length, robust enough to create a full story to tell and short enough to read aloud well. The fiddling of the sea is just right, not quite easily guessed by the reader and very cleverly done.

The illustrations are marvelous. Done in acrylics, colored pencil and graphite, they capture the bright seaside where the sea fizzes along the beach. Swashby is pure prickles from his bristly beard to his scratchy sweater. Meanwhile the little girl is colorful and soft. The two together on the page make for a study in contrasts that is sure to please.

Satisfying sea fare. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Julia’s House Moves On by Ben Hatke

Cover image for Julia’s House Moves On

Julia’s House Moves On by Ben Hatke (9781250191373)

This sequel to Julia’s House for Lost Creatures carries readers back to the marvels of the Julia’s unusual house and the creatures she shares it with. Julia’s house was getting restless and all of the different creatures who lived there could feel it and started to act out too. Luckily, Julia had a plan for moving them, she even knew just the spot in the mountains for them. But then, the turtle whose back carried the house decided to move right then, down into the ocean. Now the house was tattered and barely afloat. Julia though had a plan filled with paddling and pushing but the house sunk faster and sharks were circling. She went to her other plan, and blew on Triton’s Horn but that didn’t work out either. With her house sinking, the creatures floated off away from Julia. All was lost. Or perhaps they had their own plan!

Written just for compulsive planners like myself, this picture book is funny and full of dynamic moments. Hatke, the creator of graphic novels like Zita the Spacegirl, is just as at home in the picture book format. His pacing is brisk, never letting poor Julia linger for long in her new spot of trouble. Julia’s plans are feats in themselves, constantly figuring out what to do, and show real resilience in dire situations.

As with all of Hatke’s art, he creates characters who are fascinating, friendly and full of life. Here he gets to delve into all sorts of strange creatures too who liven up the story. His illustrations are worth lingering over, with small touches that make Julia’s house come alive (literally).

Perhaps the perfect COVID fantasy read that shows how communities can work to save one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.