The Great Gran Plan by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Steven Lenton (9781250186034)
Reviewed June 18, 2019.
This fractured fairy tale mixes the story of the Three Little Pigs together with Little Red Riding Hood into one wild caper. When the wolf is unable to blow down the house of bricks, the pig finds the wolf’s next plot: to gobble down Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother! So pig sets off to save her. But first, he must gather supplies. He shops for a superhero cape, but all they have is a shawl. He puts that on and tries to find binoculars, but all they have are red eyeglasses on a chain. He wears those with the shawl and finds a lack of rope, which he substitutes yarn for. So when he heads into the woods to save Granny, he looks rather like a grandmother himself!
Woollard has managed to create a rhyming picture book that avoids being too sing-songy or stilted. Instead she merrily plays with rhymes both internal and at the ends of lines, creating a jaunty feel that reads aloud beautifully. Her fractured tale is filled with plenty of action and readers will realize that pig is starting to look like a grandmother long before he does in the book. That adds to the merriment factor immensely. Add in the anything-but-frail Granny and this book is a lot of fun.
Lenton’s illustrations are bright and bold. Filled with touches like the pig-shaped vehicle that pig drives, the three bears selling items in three different sizes, and even a store called “Rope-unzel’s.” This is a world filled with other stories that are hinted at in the illustrations and are entirely delightful.
A fun fractured fairy tale with one big bad wolf, who is sure to lose. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt & Co.
It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni (9781250302953)
With a diverse cast of children, this picture book deftly explains gender identity. Ruthie, the first character we meet, is a transgender girl. Identified as a boy at birth, she explained to everyone that she was actually a girl. Her little brother is a cisgender boy, and the book explains that term as well. Transgender and cisgender are explained frankly with neither given extra weight in the text. The term non-binary is then explained with two of its variants shown by characters in the text. There is Alex, who is both a boy and a girl, and JJ, who is neither boy nor girl. The book goes on to explain that even with all of these terms, some people don’t feel they fit in any of them, and that feeling that way is just fine.
The emphasis here is on children being allowed to be themselves, no matter what that means. Feelings about gender are real and valid. Families shown in the book are accepting and supportive of their children, no matter what gender they may identify as. The tone of the text is frank and friendly, explaining the terms and offering immense support for all children. It is positive through and through.
The art is great with skies filled with watercolor washes of blue. The cast is diverse in many ways including race, faith, sexuality, and a person who uses a wheelchair. The art is filled with color, evoking the same positive feel as the text.
A great book to use to explore children’s own gender identity or introduce gender identity concepts to young children. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Co.
Great Job, Mom! by Holman Wang (9780735264083)
The co-creator of Cozy Classics returns with a felted family. The three-person family has a mom who almost a hero for her children. As the story progresses, she is given different jobs in the family. She is a carpenter when she repairs things. She’s a general when the troops get marched to bed. She is a doctor when the children are sick. She’s an actor when they pretend together. This charmer of a picture book offers a glimpse of the many roles that mothers play in families, celebrating their myriad skills.
Wang’s text is simple and straight forward. Done in rhymes, they have a jaunty rhythm that makes the book great to share aloud. But the real winner here are the illustrations that life the book to new heights. At the end of the book, the process for creating the felted characters and their scenes is shown, not taking away any of the immense skill that Wang has as an illustrator. The small touches and the lifelike characters are delightful, making each image worth looking at closely.
A celebration of mothers, this picture book is a joy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9780525554165)
Lubna and her father have come to a refugee camp. As they arrived, Lubna found a smooth pebble. Pebble becomes her closest friend as she and her father make a new home in the camp. Pebble listens to all of Lubna’s stories of the war and her family. Pebble’s drawn on eyes and smile are friendly even in the cold nights. Lubna’s father finds her a box and towel for Pebble, so Pebble is warm at night too. When Amir arrives at the camp, he won’t speak to anyone. But when Lubna shows him Pebble, he introduces himself. Soon Lubna and Amir are close friends, though Lubna assures Pebble that they are still best friends. Lubna’s father finds them a new home in a different country, and Amir is very sad. Perhaps Pebble can help him out.
Meddour gently depicts a very personal side of the refugee crisis. Showing a more universal experience of refugees fleeing a war-torn country, the book really allows readers to deeply feel the loneliness and fright of a young child caught in this situation. At the same time, the book doesn’t go into the personal losses in detail, they are alluded to rather than fully realized, which is ideal for young children. The use of a pebble as a friend is also incredibly moving, showing the poverty and the isolation of a child in a very concrete way.
The in the picture book is filled with deep colors and also depicts light shining upon Lubna as she makes her way towards a new life. Throughout the book there is a sense of hope and that is also conveyed in the images in the book, with open skies, deep imaginary worlds, and even the smile of Pebble.
An accessible and heartfelt look at the refugee crisis. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (9781626724426)
The Little Guys are very small but when they work together they can do almost anything! Using leaves to float, they cross deep water. In the big forest, they hold hands to stay together and keep from being afraid. They find berries and form a stack to reach them. But as they continue their search for more and more food, they start using their combined strength in a way that upsets the rest of the forest. Chipmunks go flying, owls get forced out of their nests, and they even beat up a bear! Soon they have all of the food in the forest! But have they gone too far?
Brosgol follows her incredible Leave Me Alone! with this clever look at the impact of collective action and what happens when even the smallest of us upset the balance of nature and society. The text is simple and straightforward, told in the voice of the Little Guys as they head out scavenging. They are full of confidence as they make the trek to find food and it’s a stirring picture of the power of community until it goes awry in such a spectacular way.
Brosgol’s Little Guys are ever so adorable with their acorn caps and stick-thin limbs. Their orange bulbous noses also add to their appeal. With almost no facial expressions, it is impressive how she gives them emotions with body language. The dwarfing of their size in the forest and beside the other animals is also effectively portrayed.
A delight of a picture book that is an unusual look at sharing with your community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Genevieve Simms (9781771389631)
When Mayumi was born, her grandfather who lived in Japan built her a garden. It was a garden without tulips or flowers. Instead it was a garden of stones of all sizes. Around the edge, the garden had bushes and trees as well as a space for Mayumi to have a meal with her grandfather. As Mayumi grew up, she learned more and more about taking care of her garden alongside her grandfather. But then one summer, her grandfather could not care for his home or the garden anymore. When they arrived, the house was dusty and the garden was overgrown. Her grandfather had to use a wheelchair now. Mayumi is very angry and takes her anger out on the rocks of the garden, trying to topple the largest over. When she is unable to tip it over, she kicks the smaller rocks around. As her anger subsides, she rakes the garden back into order again and has an inspiration of what she can do to help both herself and her grandfather with this transition.
Uegaki was inspired to write this book by her own father who was a traditional Japanese landscaper and gardener. She captures with nicely chosen details the essence of a Japanese rock garden with its order, natural elements and upkeep. She also shows how a garden can create connections between in a long-distance relationship with a grandparent. She manages to have a strong point of view without being didactic at all, instead allowing the reader and Mayumi to experience the results of the garden without extra commentary.
The illustrations by Simms add to the understanding of the Japanese garden. Done in beautiful details, they offer images of the rocks, the moss, the gravel, and all of the elements. Using different perspectives for her images, she shows views from alongside the garden as well as from above. The same is true of the grandfather’s house as views change from outside looking in to the reverse.
A charming look at the connections between grandfather and granddaughter built through a garden. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Hello, I’m Here! by Helen Frost, illustrated by Rick Lieder (9780763698584)
This book looks at a family of sandhill cranes as an egg hatches and a chick is born. The little hatchling is soon standing covered in dry fuzz next to their mother. As the day progresses, the chick discovers their brother who has already hatched. They go for a swim in the water and flee from snapping turtles back to the nest where they are now damp and muddy. They have a snack of an insect and a snail. Then they are tired enough for a rest next to their mother.
Frost writes invitingly brief rhyming couplets that accompany the brilliant photographs in this picture book. Her story emphasizes the gentle care of the parent cranes as well as the ability for the newly-hatched chicks to do a bit of exploring on their own. It’s a lovely mix of freedom and protection. The photographs echo that with their focus on the large cranes that dwarf their fuzzy offspring, the beauty of the natural setting, and the adorable pairing of the sibling baby cranes.
Another winner from Frost and Lieder, this one is just right for spring. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from Candlewick Press.
Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (9780823441556)
This picture book takes a look at water in our lives. It includes rivers and lakes, puddles and streams. There is water we drink from a glass and water that we bathe in. Water is also in snow and ice, steam, clouds and fog. The little girl who leads readers through the exploration of water also thinks about water being inside of her and making up part of her too. Told in short sentences that make this ideal to use with preschoolers learning about the water cycle, the book ends with deeper looks at water, the cycle and how to conserve water yourself.
The book has a jaunty and energetic tone, inviting readers to explore water around themselves too. The book pairs its short sentences with larger words that tell what is being described and invite young listeners to guess and interact with the images and text. Portis’ illustrations are filled with blues and greens that range from deep lake blue to the lightest of ice blues. White and gray add to the color palette with rain, snow and fog.
A welcome addition to STEM books for preschoolers, this one is a refreshing drink on a hot day. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
Music for Mister Moon by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (9780823441600)
A collaboration between the Steads is always reason for joy. This picture book explores the imagination of Hank, a young cellist who simply wants to play all alone. When her parents suggest that she play in public, she doesn’t think that sounds good at all. So she imagines them as penguins and heads for her room which she imagines is an isolated warm room. But just as she starts to play, an owl hoots outside. Hank eventually tosses a teacup at the owl but then her cozy home starts to fill with smoke. She discovers that the moon has been hit by her teacup and fallen down to sit atop her chimney. Together, Hank and moon have a series of adventures from buying the moon a warm hat to taking a boat ride. Will Hank play her music for the moon? And how will the moon return to the sky again?
This story is intensely whimsical and lovely. From the very first page, the tone is set and readers will realize they are in a different world. This is partly because of the lightness and ethereal beauty of the illustrations. Filled with chalky color, their fine lines show a world populated with animals, coziness and quiet.
The writing is equally delicate, moving through the tale and inviting readers to linger a while and hear the cello music too. Hank is an intriguing character, a girl who loves music but not performing. She is also a girl with an intense imagination, creating teacups and flinging them high enough to tap the moon. She allows her emotions to become items she places around her, and so the journey with the moon becomes all the more beautiful.
A bedtime story that is beautiful, moonlit and filled with music. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.