This picture book is based on one of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s favorite stories of her childhood and her grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Born over 100 years ago, Roundtree grew up to be a renowned civil rights attorney. She and her grandmother headed into the night in midsummer. They move through the darkness to the woods to gather blackberries. As they walk through the night, other women join them, silent in the dark. The darkness gets thicker as they move into the woods, and Dovey’s grandmother encourages her to hold onto her apron strings and let her eyes adjust. They reach the blackberry clearing and everyone gets to work but not before Dovey gets the first and best berry to eat. They pick berries, the women chatting, until the sky turns pink and at her grandmother’s command the sun rises over the horizon.
McCabe takes a powerful moment in Roundtree’s life and turns it into a picture book that invites children to explore the woods at night and not be afraid. There is a sense of adventure throughout the book illuminated with the wonder of being out in a summer night. The profound silence of the night and its darkness make for a book full of mystery with text that asks to be read in a hushed tone to share the moment with one another all the way through sunrise.
Figueroa’s illustrations are rich and beautiful. She takes the darkness and tinges it with blue, teal and purple to show paths, faces and the women walking together. She also sweeps the path with fireflies and glimmers, adding to the wonder of the book.
A story that serves as an allegory for resilience, going through the darkness and knowing the sun will rise. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
This picture book about friendship explores what happens when a best friend is grieving and angry. Told in the first person, the book draws readers directly into the tale. Two children are best friends, and they do everything together from hide-and-seek to joke books. No matter how well Marlo hides, his best friend can find him. But then one day, something was wrong and Marlo didn’t want to play. He told his friend to go away. Sharing a joke made it even worse and Marlo got angrier and angrier, until his anger took up all the space. But his friend remembered that no matter what they could always find Marlo. That’s when they found out what was going on and did just what a best friend should do, they cried together.
Arnold captures the beauty of a young friendship based on shared humor, a great dog and playing games together. He shows the richness of the friendship and how connected these two children are. That gives the platform for Marlo’s deep anger and anguish to appear. While it is confusing, his friend does just the right thing, staying around and offering comfort and empathy. Remarkably, the book is told in short and approachable sentences, allowing the images to tell a lot of the story too.
The illustrations are full of green grass, backyard spaces, and play. When Marlo’s anger appears, it is a black scribble of emotion that steadily grows to turning all of the pages to pitch black. It is in that moment that his friend finds him. That friend who speaks in first person is marvelously androgynous, able to be either girl or boy and it doesn’t matter at all.
A resonant friendship story about empathy and grief. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
A turtle family sets out on a long slow walk, leaving their spot by the pond behind. They start off in the spring through fields of flowers, bouncing rabbits, and robins. They cross a river and curl up together on a rainy night. They continue on under bright yellow flowers, seeing insects, bubbles, and fireflies. They keep walking into autumn with its changing leaves, apples, and chipmunks gathering acorns. They pass jack-o-lanterns and fall asleep together in the falling leaves. Next comes winter with the world turned white with snow. They finally reach their destination after a long climb. And now it’s not time to go slow anymore!
Told in simple language, this book is a gentle and slow look at the changing seasons. With a refrain of “Are we there yet?” the answer seems it will never be yes. Throughout the book there is a joy in the present moment, a pleasure in the journey itself and the changing seasons around the turtle family. The final pages have a burst of speedy joy in them, and then a return back to their burrow for the winter, once again piled together asleep.
The art is simple as well, the turtles moving through their environment, crossing rivers and streams, watching the wildlife around them, and marveling at special moments in each season. Done in watercolor, the bright green turtles are always the focus of the images as the seasonal colors swirl around them.
A joyous yet quiet look at seasons that would make a great board book too. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
As Czechoslovakia is taken over by the Nazis in 1938, one quiet man stepped forward and saved almost 700 children. At age 29, Nicky was invited to visit Prague while on a ski trip. At the same time, Vera was growing up outside of Prague, happily adopting stray cats. They were one of the only Jewish families in the town, but that didn’t matter in their lives. The in October the German army marched into Czechoslovakia and Vera’s parents learned of a British man who was saving children. That man was Nicky. Understanding that he could do something, he worked in Prague making lists of children and finding train connections. When he returned to London, he found foster families for the children and acquire visas and tickets with his own money, sometimes needing to create his own stamps. Vera left home with 76 other children on a train. In total, 669 children reached London safely. No one heard of Nicky’s quiet work until his wife found the records. Then Nicky’s work was revealed to everyone on a popular TV show, and his life is still celebrated.
Sís has created a haunting yet also celebratory nonfiction picture book that describes the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia through a child’s eyes and also offers the lens of a man who realizes the potential human disaster about to occur and does something to rescue the children. The tension between the two is beautifully done, creating a deep understanding of what was at stake and the speed at which something needed to happen. The book is one that will make you actually cry, particularly towards the end when the survivors are there to thank Nicky for what he did for them. Crushingly moving.
As always Sís’s art is entirely its own style. He offers overhead maps of Vera’s small town and her life. He also shares maps of Europe and whimsical images that are almost folkloric in their storytelling. It’s a lovely mix of story, truth and heroism.
Truly remarkable, this is a picture book to read with tissues nearby. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.
It’s So Quiet by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tony Fucile (9781452145440)
As the sun sets, the farm gets quiet and still. The moths “shah” against the light until the lamp turns off. A little mouse thinks it’s way too quiet to sleep, but his mother tells him that the sounds of the night will whisper him to sleep. He starts to listen and hears many things in the night. There is a frog singing, crickets chirping, a rattling screen door, wind through the trees, an owl hooting, and much more. Grandpa is snoring on the porch and the dog’s tail is thumping on the boards. When a coyote howls, the little mouse looks out his window to see what that was! He hears all of the noises once more, and then again even louder. The night might be too noisy after all!
Funny and a joy to read aloud, this picture book will quickly become a bedtime favorite. The book is filled with noises that should be great fun for both the reader and the listener to contribute to, since they repeat several times in the book. Expect enthusiastic frog croaks, wind whooshes, and more. It’s also a book that will have children listening in their own beds to the noises of the night around them.
The illustrations add to the fun with the serenity of the night clear at first and then quickly moving to a zany pitch and pace visually as the noises pick up. The natural setting is shown simply, allowing the various elements to repeat visually as well. Readers will see the frog, owl, crickets and coyote from the very first page.
Sato became a rabbit one day and has been one ever since. Told in short chapters, Sato goes about his days. He waters the plants around his house using a very long hose, a very special hose. In the second story, there is a sea of grass where Sato hangs his laundry that soon becomes a rollicking sea of water. A meteor storm becomes a way to light a path. A watermelon becomes a boat. After the rain, puddles reflect the sky, giving Sato a portal to the clouds. Walnut shell halves lead to unique little worlds of their own. Colored ice from the forest lets Sato taste emotions.
It’s a marvelously surreal little picture book that invites readers into Sato’s imagination as he explores the world around his home. It’s particularly marvelous that each of the inspiring elements is ever so normal, from laundry hanging near grass to eating watermelon or walnuts. The text is perfectly descriptive of what is happening, not giving away when reality becomes magical, just stating things frankly.
The art is bright and colorful, using the white space on the page to create smaller illustrations and then suddenly move to full-page spreads that delight. The colors used are deep and rich, allowing Sato in his white rabbit outfit to really stand out on each page.
Wild and imaginative, this book invites children to join in the fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Stella’s hair was not doing what she wanted at all. It was the day of the Big Star Little Gala, so Stella wanted her hair to be special. Her mother suggested that Stella visit her Aunt Ofelia who lived on Mercury for a special style. So Stella hopped onto her hoverboard and headed over. Aunt Ofelia gave her a soft and elegant style, but Stella wasn’t sure it worked for her. Next she visited Aunt Alma on Venus, who created a straight lion’s mane style that took up too much space. Then she tried Aunt Rubi on Mars who gave her a crown of hair that was a bit too much for Stella. Auntie Cielo on Jupiter splashed around while Aunt Iris on Saturn gave Stella space buns. On Uranus, her twin aunts, twisted and braided. Neptune’s visit got her waves. Finally, Stella ended up with her Aunt Solana near the sun, who encouraged her to see her wild hair as a positive. Stella finally incorporated all of the elements of her aunt’s styles into her own plus some of her very own curls too.
Full of positivity, this book celebrates the many, many ways that Black hair can be styled with real flair. It’s great to see a science fiction picture book that focuses on a Black girl exploring the universe and visiting Black women for support. The ending with a focus on individuality and self-expression sets just the right tone of encouragement too. Turn to the back of the book for some information on the different planets in our solar system.
The art is bright and vibrant with the various Black women characters wearing their hair in all sorts of colors and styles. It’s great and funny to see them each style Stella in their own preferred style, until she reaches the final aunt who tells her to be herself.
Inclusive and vibrant, this book explains that we all need to simply be proud of who we are and what our hair does. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
A Latinx family welcomes a new baby in this picture book where Spanish and English mix in the text. The new parents welcome the baby home. They gaze at the perfect little face, touch fingers and toes. The baby is fed after getting a bit fussy, then burped too. It’s eventually time for a siesta, achieved with a clever burrito fold of the blanket that leaves that cute little face showing. The book ends with bedtime and being kissed goodnight.
Perfect for new older siblings who are still toddlers themselves, this book shows what to expect on a baby’s first day. There will be lots of gazing in bliss at the new little face, exploring fingers and toes, and sleeping. The Latinx family bursts with love and warmth on the page, showing how adored and longed for this new baby is. The text is simple and weaves Spanish into the English sentences. A glossary of the Spanish words is included at the end of the book.
The illustrations are simple and full of light. They were done with watercolor, colored pencil and Photoshop. The quiet greens and blues carry from the cover through the entire book, creating a unified vision.
A lovely glimpse of a baby’s first day. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.