Lights on Wonder Rock by David Litchfield

Lights on Wonder Rock by David Litchfield

Lights on Wonder Rock by David Litchfield (9780358359531)

Heather has read all kinds of information about outer space and aliens. She longs to leave earth and head into the stars. So out in the woods, she picks a large rock, sits on it and shines her flashlight into the night sky, turning it on and off. She waits in the quiet darkness, until suddenly dazzling light surrounds her. A flying saucer in rainbow lights lands nearby and a friendly alien invites her on board. But when she hears her parents searching for her, Heather leaves the spaceship and returns home. Heater continued to return to the rock for years, growing up and sharing her dreams with her own children. More time passed and Heather came to the rock less often, but occasionally went with a flashlight to shine it into the sky. Then one day, it happened again. Will Heather go with the alien this time?

This picture book uses only the barest of text to support its incredible illustrations. Told primarily in a graphic novel format, the text shares information and back story with the reader. It is particularly effective to ensure that readers see the passage of time as Heather returns to the rock over the years. A handful of sentences sprinkled like stars across the black page.

The illustrations are marvelous, filled with hope and light. The rock anchors many of the images, large and unchanging despite the passage of time. Heather changes over the years, subtly putting on weight around her middle, her hair graying slightly. The light also changes, moving through seasons, streaming through the trees, remaining stubbornly non-rainbow and non-glittery until the dazzling time the spaceship returns.

Satisfying and engaging science fiction for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books. 

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (9781419746550)

Every Wednesday, a group of people come together in a little kitchen to cook together. They put on aprons, roll up their sleeves, heat up the oven. Then they start to look for ingredients, things they have grown or kept or purchased. Day-old bread from the bakery is given a little time in the oven and comes out new. Apples with bruises are still good and make an amazing apple crumble. Beans and vegetables mix and stew into a chili. Soon the dining room is filling up and time is running out. The food hits the table and is served to those waiting in line, neighbors in need. Conversations happen around the room, second helpings are offered and everyone leaves warm and full. Then it’s clean up time!

Based on her own work in a community kitchen, where there is sometimes plenty of ingredients and other times just enough to scrape into a meal. This picture book shows the hard work and dedication of a group of volunteers working to feed their neighbors with food and with kindness. The pace is brisk and busy, each person working on their own dish that comes together as a harmonious meal at the end. There is no chef bossing people around, but instead a shared effort that is so uplifting.

Tamaki’s art fills the pages with a diverse group of neighbors who work together. Young readers will enjoy watching a little boy who comes along with his mother to help. The busy kitchen moves across the pages with energy. Beans, bread, apples and more stream across the pages, sometimes lifting the workers right off their feet. The end pages contain visual recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble.

Positive and kind, this is a community kitchen that everyone will want to join. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)

Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.

Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.

The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.

This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad (9780593116296)

It is 1973 in Paris, and the girl decides that she wants to wander and travel. One day she gets on a motorcycle and starts out, carrying everything she needs with her. Listening to the road before her, she sets out to ride around the world. From Paris, she flies to Montreal in Canada, riding across the country. She camps at night, swims under the Northern Lights, and heads to Alaska. From there, she flies to Tokyo then to Bombay. Sometimes her bike breaks down, but the road keeps calling. She goes through Afghanistan, Turkey, then Europe. Then she returns home to Paris, different from when she left.

This is the true story of Ann-France Dautheville, who was the first woman to ride a motorcycle around the world alone. For ten years, she traveled the world, including the four months that she made this journey told in the book. Novesky was inspired by a single photograph she saw, creating a picture book that celebrates the bravery and spirit of this woman. Using a unique approach of calling her “the girl,” the book invites readers to see themselves in Dautheville’s place, exploring on her own. Throughout the book, there is a merry sense of adventure, acknowledgement of the dangers, and a deep appreciation for life on the road.

Morstad’s art captures that same delight in the journey. From the items packed in her bags to the amazing landscapes she journeyed through, the art follows her travels. There are dark nights under Canadian’s trees, red flower days in India, sapphire rivers, and calming Buddhas. Told in vibrant yet simple illustrations, readers get a true sense of the scope of her ride.

A great book that exemplifies girl power, jump on this ride! Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (9781452137797)

Inspired by Blackall’s travels for UNICEF and Save the Children, this is a picture book guide to our planet. It offers a first-time visitor to earth useful information, such as directions to our planet in the solar system. The world is looked at through the people who live here, the homes we live in, the families we grow up in. It also features the world’s weather, schools, transportation, jobs and hobbies. Then the book turns to animals around the world and under the sea. It finishes looking at creativity, art, science and medicine. It’s a celebration of all that makes us unique, fascinating and worth the visit.

While the list above may sound mundane, in Blackall’s hands it is warm and energetic. Each item is marveled at for a bit, rather like picking up a gem and then moving on to the next amazing jewel. The entire book is a delight, looking at the earth and at humans as something to be proud of, to care for, and to adore.

As always, two-time Caldecott Medal winner Blackall’s art is remarkable. She shows diversity of humans and animals with such joy. Her characters always have a little extra sparkle in their eye or in the tilt of their head.

A grand tour of earth that invites us all to slow down and love our planet and one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books. 

 

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman (9781605375182)

The journey following the river and waterway begins with Bunny losing her rubber ducky into the flow of the stream from the glacier near their home. She and her brothers hop into their boat to catch up to the toy. Soon they are floating past a pine forest, filled with other animals on picnics, racing motorcycles, kayaking, cycling, hiking, and much more. The river moves past farmland full of cows and horses, then spills into a huge lake where it is still hard to glimpse the toy floating. Look closely! After a glorious waterfall, the scene moves to a medieval town and European castles. Then a factory appears, pumping steam and water. Rain starts and the river slows to explore small islands. Windmills and tulips appear until a harbor is reached with a broad sea. Finally the toy is caught again. But what other stories did you see along the way?

This thoroughly Dutch picture book is a very entertaining seek-and-find book that is complicated and funny. Readers will need to lean in closely and read the book multiple times to follow all of the clever story arcs contained in the book. Nicely, Weightman outlines some of the ones to watch for in introductory pages.

The book does have words, but they are nearly unnecessary as the real star of the book are the incredibly detailed landscapes filled with foxes, rabbits, bears, pigs, and lots of other animals. Throughout the action, there are lovely moments of blissful floating, meeting new people, and a strong sense of a large community together.

An exceptional seek-and-find book with a European flair. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clavis.

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (9780062910370)

Join Mr. Gilly in his crane with a wrecking ball in this dynamic picture book. Mr. Gilly’s crane is slow moving, but it can do a lot. When he swings the wrecking ball and hits a wall, it goes “Smash! Smash! Smash!” When he hits it again it goes, “Crash! Crash! Crash!” The wall tumbles down. Is he done? No! On goes the demolition, the ball swinging, smashing and crashing. When it is finally finished, Mr. Gilly uses his bulldozer to clear up the mess he made. The new building starts going up as Mr. Gilly heads home to dinner and bed.

This is a picture book just right for toddlers who love trucks and machines. The text is jaunty and great fun to read aloud. It has plenty of rhyming repetition in the smash and crash as well as the repeating question of whether Mr. Gilly is done yet. Get the children you are reading to involved in the crash and smash with claps and stomps, and you have a great finishing book for a story time.

The art by Yaccarino is bold and simple, ensuring that this is great for reading to a crowd of children. The art has the same good humor and merriment as the text, offering a busy urban setting for demolition as well as a final view of a public library being built on the site.

Let this one crash your story time! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.

Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.

Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.

A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.