Category: Picture Books

4 Compassion-Filled Picture Books

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn

Letters to a Prisoner by Jacques Goldstyn (9781771472517)

This wordless picture book is almost a graphic novel in style. A father and daughter head out with protest signs marked with red circles that match the little girl’s red balloon. Waiting for them though are police in deep blue, who speak with blue squares. The red circle protesters are beaten with batons and taken away to jail. The girl’s father is held in isolation, dreaming about his daughter and their time together. Suddenly, the man gets mail but the guards don’t approve of it. More and more mail arrives from the mice and birds. The guards burn the letters, but the scraps fly into the air to be found by others around the world who write more letters in response. Soon the jail is buried in letters and the letters form wings that carry the man back to his daughter.

Based on the letter writing campaigns of Amnesty International, this picture book/graphic allows young readers to not only understand that people are jailed wrongly around the world but also to have a way to help. The illustrations have a wonderful energy to them. They show the despair of the jailed man but not without small glimpses of hope in the form of small animal friends. A strong message of unity and working together for justice pervades this book. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley provided by Netgalley and Owlkids Books.)

The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip C. Stead

The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (9781626722828)

When Sadie and Sherman discover that Little Amy Scott threw the goldfish she got for her birthday into the ocean, they know that they have to do something. Sadie gets right to planning, immediately naming the goldfish Ellsworth. Helped by a small gang of monkeys in striped shirts and red bandanas, the children also borrow a boat, get a net and two long fishing poles, balloons, paint and slickers. They head out onto the ocean, trying to be patient as they try to catch Ellsworth before supper. Will their plan work? What will they do with Ellsworth if they save him? And what will happen to Little Amy Scott?

Stead’s writing works seamlessly with Cordell’s zany art. The story has lovely details that enrich the book, giving a sense of community, of a detailed plan and the joy of working as a team to rescue someone. The art by Cordell adds the wonderful monkeys and the pink balloons that keep sending their own messages. A wet and rainy riot of a picture book that is sure to make even the dampest child smile. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Pup and Bear by Kate Banks

Pup and Bear by Kate Banks, illustrated by Naoko Stoop (9780399554100)

The Big Freeze was coming to the Arctic and the wolves took shelter. But when the Big Melt came, one little wolf pup was stranded on a sheet of ice and unable to reach land. He swam and swam, finally falling asleep in a snowdrift. There, a polar bear found him. The little wolf was scared at first, but the polar bear offered to help him. She took him to her den, fed and cared for him. Even though she was not his mother, she could do many things for him like teach him where to fish and play together. As time passed, the wolf grew old enough to head out on his own. He met other wolves and led a pack. Then one day, he found a baby polar bear alone in a storm, and the seasons and cycles continue.

Illustrated by award-winning Stoop, the Arctic images are done on wood, allowing the grain to come through and form swirls in the blue sky. The white animals glow against the Arctic setting filled with blues and greens. Banks’ text is poetic and evocative as it describes the beauty of the Arctic and the wonder of care for others. A lovely picture book with a strong message of extended community. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

Shelter by Celine Claire

Shelter by Celine Claire, illustrated by Qin Leng (9781771389273)

The animals are all getting ready for a big storm. They have closed their doors and are making their dens cozy and warm. Two strangers arrive out of the blustery wind and begin to ask at each door for shelter. They have tea to offer, but one after another the neighbors all say no. The little fox though heads out with a lantern for them, but nothing more. As the snow begins to fall, the strangers know they will be fine. But the fox family’s shelter is failing due to the weight of the snow. Soon they are outside in the falling snow and asking for help themselves. Who will help them?

This book explains with a gentle tone and a non-didactic approach about the failure of community when it becomes isolationist and the power of kindness and compassion for those in need. After all, one might become the ones who need help eventually. The illustrations by Leng glow on the page. They show the lovely families together and their warmth with one another and the love they have. That is then turned quickly on its head as they turn away the strangers. A strong and simple tale that will lead to important discussion. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley received from Netgalley and Kids Can Press.)

4 Picture Books Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato (9781627796422)

A boy and his family are heading to a birthday party for a newborn baby. But first they have to get their old car to run. The car, like many in Cuba, is very old and has been repaired again and again. Papa opens the hood and the boy helps hand him tools to get the engine chattering again. The road is bumpy and the car is crowded with neighbors who also needed a ride that day. As they get to Havana, the countryside transitions into an urban world, filled with other old cars, bicycles and people walking. After the party, the family heads back in the car in the darkness.

Engle’s skill with writing fills the page with the richness of Cuba and its cars. She spends time looking at the engine and letting the child help. There is a feeling of joy upon entering Havana and a wonder about it as well. The illustrations also feel that way, the text and illustrations slowing together as Havana comes into sight and is entered. A great pick for car fans and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya

La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780399251566)

A Peruvian twist on the classic fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea, this picture book incorporates Spanish words into the story. El principe wanted a wife but his mother was very selective. When a maiden riding past caught the prince’s eye, his mother devised a sneaky test of a pea and a pile of mattresses. But this twist on the tale has one additional surprise for readers familiar with the tale: a prince with a mind of his own! The text of this book is simple and filled with touches of Spanish that keep the book firmly grounded in Peru. The illustrations do the same with traditional outfits and bright colors that blaze against the subtle backgrounds. A great pick to share with children who will love the twist at the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (ARC provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.)

Sing Don_t Cry by Angela Dominguez

Sing Don’t Cry by Angela Dominguez (9781627798396)

Two children are visited once a year by their grandfather from Mexico. He brings his guitar and shares songs with them every night. He encourages his grandchildren to sing even if they feel sad. When he was a child and had to find a new country to live in, music helped him. The power of music to change your mood and to draw new people and opportunities to you is explained very simply here. Preschoolers will understand the draw of music and will enjoy the direct message of using music as a way to change. Inspired by the author’s own grandfather, this picture book is a celebration of music and grandparents. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Yo Soy, Muslim by Mark Gonzales

Yo Soy, Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter by Mark Gonzales, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781481489362)

Crafted as a letter from a father to his daughter, this picture book sings with love. The poetic language of the text soars celebrating their identity as Muslims and Indigenous people who speak both Spanish and Arabic. The book focuses on positivity but also addresses the fact that some people will be unkind, not smile or ask pointed questions. The book then returns to celebrating identity and diversity, strengthening the message of pride. The illustrations are filled with deep colors, natural scenes and a playfulness that heightens the book. An underlying folklore quality to them ties the images to heritage. A great diverse picture book for all libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books Celebrating Nature

ABCs from Space by Adam Voiland

ABCs from Space: A Discovered Alphabet by Adam Voiland

Written by a science writer for the NASA Earth Observatory website, this alphabet book uniquely looks at satellite images of Earth to find letters. The author’s note at the beginning explains the difficulty in finding certain letters like R and B, because of the need for diagonal, straight and curved lines to be near one another. The book is visually stunning, turning from a brilliant green to subtle browns to oranges and reds. The end of the book identifies where the various letters were found and carries the reader even deeper into the images. A great way to mix science and letters together. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster.)

Animal Camouflage by Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson

Animal Camouflage by Sarah Dennis and Sam Hutchinson (9781909767720)

As you can see from the cover, this picture book is illustrated in amazing cut-paper illustrations. The book offers information on animals throughout the world and is grouped by regions. After the information, readers get to try to find the animals in an intricate search and find page. Then they learn about more animals and search for them. This is a brilliant way to immerse children deeply in habitats and looking closely at the animals and plants of that area. A gorgeous search and find with a focus on animals and habitats. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

My Wounded Island by Jacques Pasquet

My Wounded Island by Jacques Pasquet  and Marion Arbona (9781459815650)

This is the story of Imarvaluk, a young girl who lives on a tiny island near the Arctic Circle. She is part of a strong community that continues to live the way their ancestors had. Still, things are changing. The weather is impacting their small island, shrinking the pack ice and flooding the island. Scientists try to help by studying the impact and new barriers are put up, but there is no stopping the monster of climate change as it ravages the Arctic. The little girl imagines it as a huge sea monster, coming to gobble them up. For now, their homes are being moved to the center of the island but eventually, they will have to decide if they will leave and lose their community.

Told with analogies that will help children understand the impact of climate change, this picture book makes a large concept much more concrete and real. The illustrations with the monster of climate change bring to life the feeling of powerlessness and how small humans are on the planet. This book can be used for units on climate change or the Arctic and Native Peoples. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

4 Artistic Picture Book Biographies

American Gothic The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood

American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood (9781419725333)

Woods is a child of Iowa, who drew pictures of his beloved area even as a child. He left Iowa to study art in Europe. He tried various styles while there, including cubism, impressionism and abstract art. But he found his voice when he saw Gothic art in a museum. He returned to Iowa and created his best-known work, American Gothic, using his sister and dentist as models. Wood writes with a storytellers tone as she writes of Wood’s exploration of art and his triumphant return and the birth of regionalism. MacDonald’s art is bright and celebrates the Iowa countryside with a vintage flair. A great introduction to an American artist. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Imagine That How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (9780375974298)

In 1954, children were having problems learning to move from knowing how to read a few words to being able to read a book. When Life Magazine covered the issue, they suggested that a new book be made by Dr. Seuss. Unable to use his signature made-up language and words, Dr. Seuss had to follow a strict vocabulary list instead. Luckily on that list were the words “cat” and “hat” and the author was inspired. He used easy rhymes and silly illustrations combined with dynamic storylines to get children to turn the pages. Soon Dr. Seuss was creating more beginning readers and publishing others by different authors. It was the birth of the popular early-readers for children and Cat in the Hat remains one of the best! This picture book is a fascinating look at the author’s process and the way that the challenge inspired him creatively. The illustrations combine classic Dr. Seuss elements with Hawkes’ own style. Young writers will be inspired by this look at Dr. Seuss. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Muddy the Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk (9781481443494)

McKinley Morganfield was raised by his Grandma Della who called him Muddy. He was brought up with gospel music from church but loved other music more, the music heard at fish fries, the blues. But his grandmother didn’t approve and didn’t want Muddy to waste his time playing music. Muddy though could not stay away from music and saved money to get his own guitar. When not playing music, Muddy worked in the cotton fields until one day he walked out. He headed for Chicago, but no one there was interested in his country blues. People told him to change, but Muddy kept playing his style of music, steadily working towards a record and the fame that would eventually come after a lot of hard work. Mahin keeps the bounce of music in his prose, infusing it with lines from Muddy’s songs, repeating phrases about Muddy not listening to other people, and touches of rhythm. Turk’s illustrations are explosive. Done on black backgrounds, they are neon at night on the page and also show the rhythm and feel of music visually. A strong and special book about a musician who didn’t do what he was told and succeeded because of that. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

Pocket Full of Colors The Magical World of Mary Blair Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781481461313)

Mary Blair collected colors as a child, filling her eyes and her world with the colors of her family’s move West across the desert and into California. At art school, she met her husband and the two painted together. Hired as one of the first women at Disney Studios, the men didn’t want to consider her bright colors. Walt Disney invited her on a trip to South America, where Mary discovered new bright colors. She continued to try to get her colors into films, sometimes accepted and other times not. Mary eventually left the studio to create children’s books, advertising and sets. Invited back to Disney for a special project, Mary accepted but only if she was going to be the one in charge. From that agreement came It’s a Small World, a ride still beloved at Disney Parks. The authors capture Blair’s love of color and her signature style that is on full display in her picture books and the amusement park ride. The illustrations dance with those colors, leaping from the page in a merry mix of colors that move from bright to subtle. A picture book that celebrates a leading lady in Disney. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.)

3 Wolfish Picture Books

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780763660741)

Wooliam and Baabwaa are sheep who spend their time together reading books and knitting. When they decide to head out on an adventure together, they find a distinct lack of adventure in the sheep pasture. Then a stranger appears and suddenly they are on an adventure. The stranger turns out to be a wolf! When the sheep discover that the wolf needs their skilled help, they band together to teach him to read and knit him something better to wear. This picture book celebrates the mix of quiet life and excitement that makes life an adventure. The writing by Elliott has a strong narrative voice that adds a dash of humor to the tale. Sweet is an exceptional illustrator and it’s great to see her doing a lighthearted picture book filled with her watercolors and collage. A great pick for fans of books, knitting or sheepish wolves. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (9780802854827)

Edmond Bigsnout is a hungry wolf on a mission: a mission to catch and eat a city rabbit. But when he travels out of the woods and to the city, he discovers that it’s not that easy. The rabbit lives in an apartment building with lots of neighbors and Edmond is mistaken for a new neighbor. Edmond makes plan after plan to capture the rabbit, but somehow ends up helping all of the neighbors instead. Edmond soon realizes that he may just have to join them instead, particularly when he meets a lady wolf who also lives in the building. The pacing of this book is beautifully done with rushing to and fro that adds a dashing pace and then the slower moments of helping others that lead to the natural conclusion. The art uses unique perspectives that are appealing and visually interesting. A little dark and a lot of fun, this picture book is just right for ages 4-6. (Review copy from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Gregoire Mabire (9781423647973)

When a book falls to the floor, a wolf is ejected from his story. At first he thinks he can just hide under the book, but a hungry cat starts to stalk him. When he tries to enter the book he came from, he can’t seem to find the right place in the story to come in. He tries another book then, but that one is filled with princesses and dancing and the wolf is expected to dress up. Trying another book, he discovers the dangers of dinosaurs. The wolf finally discovers a book where the wolf has gone missing, and it’s just the right choice. This fractured story is a lot of fun and unlike other fractured tales doesn’t expect the readers to know many fairy tales or folk tales. Readers will enjoy the pitch black wolf struggling to enter the candy-colored story books around him. This is a story of stories worth the read. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

3 Picture Books to Celebrate Being Yourself

I Love My Purse by Belle Demont

I Love My Purse by Belle Demont, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (9781554519545)

Charlie decided one morning to take the bright red purse that his grandmother had given him and wear it to school. His dad noticed immediately and mentioned that boys don’t carry purses, but Charlie continued down the stairs with his purse. His father thought  about the Hawaiian shirts he would love to wear to work. At school, a girl in his class noticed the purse and told Charlie that boys don’t carry purses. Charlie carried on. The girl started to wonder about wearing face paint to school. At lunch, some older boys pointed out that Charlie had a purse and then one of the boys wondered about what it would be like to cook real food at school. The crossing guard mentioned his favorite sparkly shoes when he saw Charlie’s purse. The next day, things changed. Charlie still carried the big red purse but others were doing what they wanted to too.

Demont manages to write a book about embracing children who are not following gender norms without making the book about lecturing readers. The clever piece of the book is that those protesting Charlie’s purse are then inspired themselves to break with societal norms and rules in their own way. Wimmer does a great job with making the illustrations bright and merry, showing Charlie as a happy child who is sure of himself even as others question him. A winner for families and schools being more inclusive about breaking gender norms. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Annick Press.)

No One Else Like You by Siska Goeminne

No One Else Like You by Siska Goeminne and Merel Eyckerman (9780664263539)

In a world of more than 7 billion people, you are unique. This picture book explains just how special you are. People live in different types of places around the world. People can be quiet or noisy. People have different types of bodies, come in different colors, shapes and sizes. They wear different clothes. People are also similar. They are all fragile, all need compliments and care. Some people are happy, some scared. They come from different families, different faiths. All of those differences add up to mean that there is no other person just like you!

Originally published in Belgium, this picture book has a decidedly European feel to it. The loosely structured book has a lovely meandering style, rather like a conversation with a good friend about how special you are. The illustrations are smaller and more contained, the pages filled with plenty of white space. They have a playful style, showing different people and lots of different children. A lovely book to encourage self esteem and individuality. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (E-galley provided by Netgalley and Westminster John Knox Press.)

Why Am I Me by Paige Britt

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Aiko (9781338053142)

Told in simple yet profound poetry, this picture book asks a deep question about identity. Why are you the person that you are? What would happen if you were someone else? How would that change you and your experience? Due to how simple the text is, the illustrations are key to the success of the book. They are vibrant and rich, showing an urban setting with lots of different races and religions living in harmony together. This picture book is a great way to start a discussion with a class or single child. Perfect for public libraries in search for diverse picture books that invite children to think deeply about the subject. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

4 Diverse Biographies of Women

Here are four of my top picks for picture book biographies. They just happen to be about exceptional diverse women.

Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419725326)

When Amalia saw the dancers in her town square as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a dancer. She studied ballet and modern dance but always remembered those folk dancers from her childhood. Amalia traveled throughout Mexico, watching the different folk dances in different regions. She used her dancing and choreography skills to turn those dances into performances for the stage. Founding her own dance company, she became known throughout the world.

Tonatiuh uses his signature illustration style that is a delightful mix of folk images and modern edge. The illustrations are a match for the topic, each strengthening the other. He writes of the large amount of work and dedication that Hernández had as well as the vision she carried through her entire life of folk dance and its importance. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (9780735842694)

This picture book biography focuses on Frida Kahlo’s lifelong relationship with animals. As a child she had a blue parrot, the color of the home she grew up in. She also had a fawn and a cat. But when Frida was six, she got very ill and had to stay in bed for a long time. Her illness caused one of her legs to be different from the other, but once she was better it didn’t slow her down at all. Frida also had an eagle, two monkeys, two turkeys and three dogs. Her animals had a place in their garden to play, designed by Diego Rivera, Frida’s husband. As she painted, her animals stayed around her and appeared in her self portraits.

Brown uses the animals in Kahlo’s life to point out specific characteristics of her personality, each tied to a specific pet. This strengthens Kahlo’s already strong connection to her animals and makes it more clear for the reader as well. Parra’s illustrations are done on board. They have an appealing combination of organic feel, connection to nature and folk images. An appealing and unique look at Frida Kahlo. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (E-galley received from Netgalley and NorthSouth Books.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781419725593)

This picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows her intelligence from childhood onward. With a mother who loved books and reading, Ruth was raised to go to college in a time when most women did not attend. Ruth’s mother passed away the day she graduated high school and never saw her daughter head to Cornell and then on to law school. Along the way, Ruth noticed all of the inequities around her, towards minorities and women. She experienced some of the directly: having her pay slashed when pregnant and being barred from the Law Library at Harvard because she was a woman. With the fight for equality for women, Ruth became the most important female attorney in the nation as she argued before the Supreme Court. Eventually, she would become the second female court justice and the author of some of the most powerful dissents in the Court’s history.

This picture book starts with Ruth’s childhood and the importance of her mother and also ends that way. Throughout it is a celebration of the power of women and the importance of their roles and their voices. Winter writes with a strong sense of history and shows both the possibilities there are in the world and also what hard work it takes to get there. The illustrations by Innerst have a quirky historical quality to them with watercolor but also a distinct modern twist as well. This is a strong biography of Ginsburg and her importance to the entire country. Appropriate for ages 7-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (9781481446693)

Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid saw all of the natural features around her: rivers, marches, sand dunes, and more. As a child, she dreamed of creating her own cities. She designed her own clothes. In school in London, Hadid learned more about cities and architecture. She opened her own studio, designing buildings without corners that echoed the natural features of her homeland. Even after winning an architectural contest, her buildings don’t get built. But she refuses to change or stop designing. Eventually, her buildings gain attention and are built around the world. Her studio grows and gets busier. Even after she passes away, her ideas and designs and the work of her studio continue.

Winter has a gorgeous way with biographies, keeping them brief enough for even preschool audiences but detailed enough to intrigue and to speak to the individual and their life. Look in the back of the book for information on where her buildings are located in the world. The illustrations, also by Winters, capture the soaring spirit of Hadid’s designs and their unique vision. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane.)