So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Daniel Minter (9781626728721)
Isabella grew up in slavery, sold away from her mother when she was nine. She did hard labor for years, sometimes with no shoes in the winter and other times with no sleep at night because of the work expected of her. One year after she had been forced to marry a man and had five children, she was promised her freedom. But freedom didn’t come and so she escaped with her baby. She arrived at the home of two kind people, who stood by her in her escape and paid for the freedom of Isabella and her baby. When her son was sold away by her old master, Isabella went to court to have him returned to her. As time went by, she took the name Sojourner Truth and started to speak publicly against slavery. She fought many battles for equality, standing tall and speaking the truth.
This book aches with pain, loss, and grief. The book is broken into sections, each starting with an evocative phrase about slavery, that shows what is ahead. These poetic phrases add so much to Sojourner Truth’s biography, pulling readers directly into the right place in their hearts to hear her story. Schmidt’s writing doesn’t flinch from the damage of slavery and its evil. He instead makes sure that every reader understands the impact of slavery on those who lived and died under it.
Minter’s art is so powerful. He has created tender moments of connection, impactful images of slavery, and also inspiring moments of standing up for what is right. The images that accompany Schmidt’s poetic phrases are particularly special, each one staring right at the reader and asking them to connect.
A riveting biography of one of the most amazing Americans in our history. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
PW has released their list of the Best Children’s and YA Books of 2018. They represent the top 50 books of the year out of the 1700 children’s and YA books published in 2018 that PW reviewed. Here are their picks for the best picture books:
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
The Crocodile and the Dentist by Taro Gomi
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
The Elephant by Jenni Desmond
The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier
Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall
Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Julia Sarda
The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year edited by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon
Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
Our Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Ana Aranda (9781620142714)
A community heads to a celebration together in this vibrant picture book that offers a mix of Spanish and English. The celebration features a large parade with fantastic floats, marching bands, fire engines and much more. There is plenty of delicious food to try and refreshing drinks to sip. When the rain begins, the fun doesn’t stop, though everyone celebrates when the sunshine returns bringing with it a celebratory rainbow.
Elya does a marvelous job of offering Spanish words for children to learn. Almost all of them can be figured out from the context in the poem. I appreciate that she uses the Spanish words for many of the rhymes, rather than burying them in the center of the lines. This makes them all the more enjoyable to read aloud and great fun to figure out. The book will also welcome Spanish-speaking children and allow them to decode the English as well. It is a cleverly built picture book.
Aranda’s illustrations are filled with brilliant colors of sunshine yellow, deep purples, bright blues, and hot pinks. They show a diverse community celebrating together with big smiles, lots of fun and whimsical parade participants.
A bright and busy picture book that dynamically includes Spanish and English. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897239)
Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks to the mountain peak. Along the way, she greets her various animal friends and finds gifts to give others later. She helps anyone who needs it too. When a young cat asks to share Mrs. Badger’s snack, she invites the cat along to the mountaintop. They need to find the little cat her own walking stick and take breaks along the way, but the two eventually make it to the peak. They enjoy one another’s company and the trip so much that they continue to make the trek together again and again. Eventually, Mrs. Badger grows older and has to be the one taking breaks and finally she can’t make the trip any longer. The cat continues to make the walk, finding her own young animal to mentor on the way.
This gentle picture book has such depth to it. Mrs. Badger is a fabulous character, exhibiting deep kindness and thoughtfulness for others. She knows everyone she encounters on the walk and makes connections easily. She demonstrates how to make and keep friends with all of her actions. This becomes even more clear as she walks with the young cat, teaching them how to make the long climb to the peak. The book can be read as a metaphor for life but children can also simply enjoy the story of the friendly badger and a young cat who become friends.
Dubuc’s illustrations move from full pages of images to smaller unframed pictures that offer a varied feel throughout the book. She makes sure to have a special feeling when the characters make it to the mountaintop. The vista is striking but it is the journey itself that makes the book sing.
A quiet book about connections and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, illustrated by Mark Pett (9781419725746)
The very last castle stands in the middle of a small town. No one ever goes into the castle and no one ever comes out. A single guard looks out from the tower. The townspeople can hear noises coming from the castle. Some think it might be monsters, others think it could be giants or snakes. Ibb is a girl who lives in the town and thinks about the castle a lot. One day, she gathers her courage and knocks on the huge castle door, but no one answers and she hears a terrible hiss. Soon afterward, Ibb gets an invitation to appear at the castle gate on Sunday. Ibb goes to the castle and is let inside where she discovers the source of the noises and forms a new connection with the man who lives there.
Jonker’s first picture book is impressive. He uses a traditional picture book tone here built on wonder and curiosity. The incorporation of the various noises that emanate from the castle is a very nice touch, making the book all the more fun to share aloud. His writing is focused and tight and the story can be read both as a straightforward tale but also as an allegory for the walls we build in our lives.
Pett creates a winning young heroine for readers, someone who firmly roots this book in the modern age with her backpack and school days. The juxtaposition between the ancient castle and the young girl works particularly well. The art is playful and the reveal of the interior of the castle is worth the suspense.
A picture book worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
King Alice by Matthew Cordell (9781250047496)
Home on a snow day with her family, Alice declares herself “King Alice” and demands that her father plays with her. They settle on making a book together, a story about King Alice and her royal knights. At first, the book is really short, just one chapter. But after her parents suggest that there may be more to the tale, Alice has more ideas. She occasionally takes a break to play with toys but is soon back again creating more chapters. After lunch, the idea is a Unicorn Party in the book but when King Alice gets too enthusiastic and hits her father with her unicorn toy she has to sit in time out. With apologies made, the book and the story continue with new ideas all the way through dinner, bathtime and in bed.
There is such honest on the pages of this picture book. From parents who are loving and also set limits and consequences to Alice’s attention span for a large project like this. It is delightful to have a creative process documented with new ideas taking time but also being immensely exciting. Alice’s parents are involved, but it is also her book done with her father’s support. It’s great when he is caught up in the project and Alice is ready to walk away.
The illustrations are loose and flowing. They show an active family willing to make messes with their daughter. Alice’s book is shown in crayon illustrations and neatly written words by her father.
A creative and imaginative picture book sure to be king of the shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.
The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books have been announced. The list is always filled with marvelous surprises and gorgeous illustrations in a variety of styles. Enjoy!
Ayobami and the Names of the Animals by Pilar Lopez Avila, illustrated by Mar Azabal
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Florette by Anna Walker
The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, illustrated by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali
The Funeral by Matt James
A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith
Our Car by J. M. Brum, illustrated by Jan Bajtlik
Run Wild by David Covell
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton, illustrated by Felicita Sala
The Visitor by Antje Damm
Sir Simon: Super Scarer by Cale Atkinson (9781101919095)
Simon is a ghost who has haunted a bunch of different places like a forest and a boat. Now he has his first assignment to haunt a house. As a ghost, he has chores that he has to take care of, including moving things around, creaking the stairs and flushing the toilets. After he does that, he has time for his own hobbies. Everything was going well until a child moved in, a child who could immediately see Simon and wanted to talk. Simon decides to have the boy do his ghost chores for him, but things don’t work out quite as planned.
Atkinson tells this story in Simon the ghost’s voice which creates a great tone throughout. The book is filled with humor, from Simon’s previous jobs in haunting to his list of the easiest people to scare to the boy learning to haunt a house. The art adds to that appeal with funny touches like using a flowered sheet to be a ghost. It is done in a style that has a vintage feel and a modern edge.
A great ghost story when you are looking for giggles rather than gasps. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (9788417123383)
This lush picture book explores the ways in which all women are princesses and all women are brave. Each woman’s details are shared, including their name, age, profession and what they love most. Then a brief explanation of their bravery is shared with the reader. Each woman is wonderfully different from the others in terms of race, culture, sexuality, being differently abled, and much more.
The entire picture book has a celebratory feeling. Each woman is given a crown in her portrait, one that matches her personality perfectly. Most charming are the small details that are shared, like the physician’s love of hot chocolate and architect’s connection to the sea. The artwork in the picture book is detailed and filled with color. Each woman gets a close-up portrait and then an image showing her with her family and loved ones actively enjoying life.
A diverse and inclusive look at the strength of all women. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.