Isaac is on his very first sleepover at Grandpop’s house. He’s had a great time, but isn’t looking forward to sleeping away from home. Isaac insists that he isn’t sleepy, so he and Grandpop put the house to bed together. They move quietly and slowly, turning off the lights. As the house gets darker, Isaac hears noises, but they are easily explained as being the dog or the wind moving the swings outside. The window shades are closed for the night and they head upstairs, listening to the sounds of the creaking house. Then Isaac reads a picture book aloud and puts Grandpop to sleep. Then it’s up to him to listen to the sounds of the house and say good night.
This is a gentle story about sleeping over at a grandparent’s home for the first time. Isaac is unsure but also excited, an accurate portrayal of the mix of feelings that young children have at staying away from home, particularly for the first time. The quiet and slow good-night process adds to the lovely bedtime tone. I particularly appreciate that it is a grandfather doing this loving moment with his grandson.
The illustrations offer just the right mixture of glowing lights, gathering darkness, and warmth as this Black grandfather and grandson share a special evening together. This book is not one to startle or scare and the illustrations take real care in exposing what the noises actually are in the house. The empowering final scenes when Isaac is the last one up also set the perfect tone.
Quiet and filled with building self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Time happens in the ticking of a clock, but it can also be seen in a flower. It starts with the seed, quiet and waiting in the dark. The flower emerges with bright petals. The picked flower then droops, releases those colorful petals. Time is also a tree, one that can grow beside you. It may be shorter than you at first, but who will be taller in ten years? How about fifty years? Time is a spider’s web, made carefully and invisibly. Time is transformation, a mountain eroding into a pebble or a butterfly that used to be a caterpillar. Time is sunsets, sun beams on the floor, the shine of moonlight at night. It is photographs with memories or your hair growing longer. It is a batch of bread rising and baking, or a song moving, or a wiggly loose tooth. It can move slow or fast, depending on what you are doing. It takes different shapes, moving through your day in all sorts of ways.
This quiet look at time offers so many ways to view the passage of time. Children will see themselves in some of the impatience or how wonderful times go far too quickly. The use of a flower at the beginning of the book broadens to include many examples of time passing through a regular day. Morstad’s writing is poetic and simple, the stanzas inviting readers to linger and think about time.
The illustrations are done in pencil, markers, colored inks, pastels and digitally. They have a dynamic vintage feel with an edge of modernity that invites you to explore. From the purple glow of a seed in the dark ground to the pastel softness of a butterfly’s wing to the beauty of a changing sunset that turns the page to a starry blue night, these illustrations capture the wonder of small moments in life.
Take your time with this one. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
This picture book forms a way for younger children to benefit from the information shared in The 1619 Project. In this story, a Black girl is given an assignment in class to trace her family history. She can only trace three generations back and tells her grandmother that she is ashamed. So her grandmother shares the history of her family before slavery when they lived in West Central Africa. Her family spoke Kimbundu and were good with their hands and used them for growing things, inventing, mixing herbs, building tools, and caring for babies. They danced to offer worship, to share joy, and to mourn. Then they were stolen, taken from their families and lands, stamped with new names. They fought back, some refused to eat and chose to die on the journey, others survived. They had to learn a new language, form a new people, and survive the brutality of slavery. From that history have come generations of Black Americans who have changed our nation for the better. There is nothing to be ashamed of, take pride in this history of resilience and hope.
The focus of this picture book is to share the history of Black Americans in this country, showing how a deep history in the cultures of Africa are their origins. The book doesn’t flinch from the darkness of the Middle Passage or the horrors of slavery. These are also sources of pride for children reading the book, who may have been made to feel ashamed of where they came from. Written with a poetic touch, the entire book is filled with hope even in its darkest points. Throughout there is a sense of resilience and power, a knowledge that ancestors survived.
The illustrations carry readers through history. They show the rich cultures in Africa and the beauty of what was lost. They show slavery but not without hope shining in the sky above. They share connections, new families forming, and children who are a promise for the future. They show resistance, an insistence on change, a focus on the future continuing to carry us forward.
Powerful and important, this book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
With a warm welcome at your grandmother’s home in Japan, this picture book firmly places children in the midst of an extended loving family filled with aunties and cousins. Change into your yukata and your wooden sandals and walk together to the bath house. Shed your clothes along with everyone else. Start with washing, washing your hair and back, do a naked dance with your cousins, until finally it is time. Everyone enters the big bath together with a sigh. Wrap in a soft towel afterwards and find a treat of shaved ice while you are waiting for the adults to finish. Walk home at night together again, holding your grandma’s hand.
Based on the author’s childhood visits to Japan in the summer, this book is so filled with warmth and love. The connection formed by bathing together, chatting, playing together and spending relaxing time together is so evident that it need not be stated outright. The writing keeps the focus on the importance of bath houses for families. It also gives stodgy Americans a chance to glimpse other ways of bathing, spending family time and respecting each other’s bodies.
The nakedness in the illustrations of this book will have some adults concerned while others will recognize it as a celebration of different body types as well as a look at Japanese culture in ways that is different from our American views. The pages are filled with sudsy, steamy, bubbly bodies, all naked and lovely.
A bubbly look into Japanese culture and the closeness of a family who may live far apart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Dad wakes up when it is still dark and walks to work. When he gets there, he works side-by-side with others to create dough that rises and becomes rolls and loaves. When the sun comes up, Dad walks back home, smelling like warm bread. While he sleeps, his daughter waits for him until it’s time to wake him up. Together, the two go to the kitchen and make their own smaller batch of bread. While it rises and rests, they spend a lot of time together. A bread surprise is created in the kitchen and the two spend the rest of the day together until night falls once more.
Told simply and in a straight-forward way, Yamasaki pays homage to single parents who work long hours, often night shifts to care for their children and provide a true home for them. In her author’s note, she mentions her work as a muralist in correctional facilities, adding another layer to the book. The program the father in the book is part of provides opportunities to those recently incarcerated. This book shows the strength and resilience it takes to return successfully from incarceration and parent a child with love, dedicating real time to being together.
The illustrations show the urban setting the family lives in, particularly when Dad walks to and from work. Their apartment is warm and cozy, full of bright colors that carry through their day spent together. The relationship between father and daughter really comes alive in the illustrations, showing the time they spend together and the joy they both take in it.
A look at parents who work the night shift that embraces those who were once incarcerated. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.
This picture book celebrates the life of Pura Belpré, librarian and storyteller. From a young age, Pura loved stories, particularly those that her Abuela told her. As an adult she moved from Puerto Rico to New York, where she first dreams of being a librarian. Soon Pura is hired at the library and works as the storyteller. But she is bound by rules such as only sharing stories written in books. But the stories she grew up hearing were not written down in English. Pura shows the how storytelling can be more than is in books, and gets permission to tell her stories in her own way. Pura also finds ways to bring in children who had not been coming into the library, children who spoke different languages and were new to America. Finally, Pura manages to put her stories into a book, one that reminds her of the taste of home.
Through lyrical prose, this picture book shows the power of stories as they cross borders. It also shows the impact of one woman, determined not to lose her stories and how she changed public libraries and their services to children permanently. It is beautiful to see a biography for young children that captures the elements of Pura’s stories and her own personality of determination but also one of joy and playfulness.
The illustrations are filled with that spirit of play. They capture the spark of storytelling, the dance of movement, and the wonder of children entering the library for the first time. Done in the colors of citrus, papaya, guava and mango, they suit Pura’s stories and herself.
An inspiring biography of the librarian who changed the rules for generations to come. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9780525581109)
Dream Street is a very special street where there is a strong sense of community even though everyone is different and has their own special dreams. Yusef waits for his brother while thinking of his ancestors who were kings and queens. Mr. Sidney sits on the stoop all dressed up every day, even though he’s just reading the newspaper. Belle wants to be a scientist who studies butterflies. Azaria is great at jumping rope and dreams of winning a trophy. Ms. Sarah has lived on Dream Street longer than anyone, her soft voice will tell you stories. Zion loves to spend time at the library. Ede collects odds and ends that others toss away while her cousin writes down what she hears. Dessa Rae has a gorgeous garden where she and her grandbaby sometimes sleep. Ms. Paula dances. Little Benjamin counts the stars. All of children on Dream Street can become whatever they want, cared for by a strong Black community.
Walker based Dream Street on the street that she grew up on. The individual stories of each person on the street stand alone and also form a tapestry of what people’s dreams look like both as a child and also as an adult. It is those critical adult stories amongst the children’s that show what a good life that followed dreams looks like and demonstrates that potential for all of the younger ones as well. The writing here is poetic and lovely, stringing the stories together into a whole that shows how one street, one community can be positive and strong.
Holmes’ illustrations are collages made from papers, fabric and acrylic paint. Filled with vibrant color, patterns, and textures, each image is a portrait of the person being described in that story. They are filled with beautiful Black faces and people, each with their own personality and style.
A book that shows how support from a community help dreams come true. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Anne Schwartz Books.
This wordless picture book shows how one act of kindness can turn into a chain of goodness that impacts an entire community and comes full circle. A woman wakes up in the morning to a stack of missing dog flyers. As she is hanging her flyers, she grabs a red apple from her bag. She decides to give it to a busker in the square. A man who saw that kindness smiles and picks up some litter. A little boy who sees that in turn helps a little girl who lost her balloon. One by one, a lost key is returned to its owner, an umbrella is shared in the rain, toys are shared, flowers are gifted. Finally. someone finds the dog and returns him too.
The illustrations in this wordless picture book tell the entire story, so it is critical that they clearly share large and small emotions. From the sorrow of losing a pet to the discovery of small acts of kindness, the illustrations show the way that kindness impacts people. The use of color is cleverly done with most of the illustrations in blacks and grays. Touches of red show kindness happening or people who have been impacted by kindness. By the end of the book the gray city has been lit with red all over.
This is a wordless book that works well for elementary-aged children due to the depth of its subject matter. There is great pleasure in following the color through the book, seeing who notices the kindness and who benefits from it as it passes through their lives.
Subtle, lovely and filled with goodness and community. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Chronicle Books.
Told in a series of meals and food, this is the story of how she rose to become a great Japanese-American chef. Starting with growing up in LA to parents who came from Japan, eating American food with a Japanese influence. Niki wanted to do her own thing, deciding not to go into the family seafood warehouse business and showing her family that she could be as successful as her older brother was expected to be. After high school, she traveled to Japan and discovered the art and flow of the kaiseki feast, a series of dishes that told a story. She went to culinary school, worked as the lone woman in a sushi restaurant, and then went on to learn kaiseki, even though no women did that either. Niki returned to LA to open a restaurant, first serving sushi to prove to her family she could do it, and then finally, opening the kaiseki restaurant she always wanted.
Using the food itself to form the structure for this picture book biography makes for a delicious journey through Nakayama’s life. Her family may not have believed in her, but Nakayama had enough determination and resilience herself to make it. Powered by her love of food and its ability to bring people together, her story shows how small steps in a journey can become destinations and life callings.
The illustrations are bright and full of foodie warmth. They focus on Nakayama herself both with her family and on her journeys. The food is central too, dishes that are colorful, steaming, luscious. Using clever frames of restaurant doorways, prep counters and plates, the illustrations always come back to Nakayama and her food.
A brilliant look at an inspiring figure in food who did it her own way. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.