Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve (9781771389174)
Vincent is staying with his aunt Mimi for the summer. She lives in an urban neighborhood with lots of concrete. Vincent is set for a dull summer where one of the most interesting things is the box of dirt balls that Mimi has from a previous boyfriend. But then Vincent meets Toma, a boy from the neighborhood. The two of them spend time together playing and take the dirt balls and toss them into the empty lot across the road. Soon not only is their friendship blossoming but the empty lot is being transformed by the dirt balls they tossed, dirt balls full of seeds. As the community joins together to care for the new garden, Vincent has to head home, but he will return next year to a neighborhood transformed by nature.
Larsen manages to show an urban neighborhood that is disconnected but still active before the garden appears. There are ice cream trucks, nosy neighbors, and balconies that connect people. Yet it is still a concrete space that needs something. It needs a garden! Told in a gentle tone and at a pace that allows space for the book to grow, this picture book is about transformation and community.
Villeneuve’s illustrations are done in quiet grays, pinks and blues that are almost hazy on the page. They transform along with the garden into vibrant colors of green that anchor the community visually and firmly.
A lovely picture book about the power of nature to create community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780062839930)
A little girl is always asked where she is from. She tries to answer by saying “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else,” but they simply insist that she tell them where she is really from. So the girl asks her Abuelo where she is from. He closes his eyes and gives her an unusual but important answer. He tells her of the varied places that her people come from. They come from wide open land in the Pampas, from brown rivers that give food, from high mountains where condors fly. She also comes from ocean waters, from hurricanes where rain makes tiny frogs sing. She comes from people who were enslaved for the color of their skin, from plazas filled with sadness. But most of all, she comes from love and from the dreams and hopes of her ancestors.
I must admit that I expected a book about the damage of asking that question of children of color. This book surprised and delighted me as it offers children being asked the question a positive way to see their ancestry whether it makes sense to others or not. The answer from the Abuelo in the book is pure poetry, taking readers on a journey through parts of the world and carrying self-acceptance along as an important theme. There is a sense of shared strength in all of the images of places that is embodied in that child.
The illustrations are beautifully rendered with deep colors that shine on the page. The varied landscapes carry readers forward into the story, inviting them to cool off on mountaintops and slow down to float on ocean waves. It is a book that celebrates our world, our cultures and our histories.
Powerful and poetic, this is one that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Godwin, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (9780525553816)
Told in simple rhymes, this book invites the youngest children to explore its pages and engage with the questions asked inside. The book begins with houses, including a little tree house for the tiny mouse. Colors are explored and then there is counting on the next page combined with more colors. The book takes readers on a bus, into the ocean, on all sorts of transportation, and asks engaging questions of the reader along the way. The book ends by inviting readers to look for the mouse hiding in every illustration.
This picture book’s jaunty rhymes are reminiscent of classic children’s books like Go Dog Go! The way that children are invited to engage with the book is wonderful and will help parents new to sharing books with children understand the sorts of questions that can be asked about the images in any picture book. Gomez’s illustrations are full of pure and bright colors that leap from the page, glowing with red, green, blue, orange and pink. The people on the pages are diverse and the urban setting where most of the book takes place is busy and friendly.
Engaging and fun, this book is best shared with only a few children so their perspectives can be heard. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534416642)
Truman is a small urban turtle. He’s about the size of a donut and lives with Sarah high above the busy streets filled with taxis and buses. He is very happy spending quiet time with Sarah. But then one day, Sarah seems different. She is wearing a bow in her hair, a new sweater and has a big backpack. She even gives him some extra green beans as a treat. Before Sarah leaves, she touches Truman and tells him to be brave. And down on the street, Sarah boards a bus for the first time! Truman tries to wait for Sarah to return, but she is gone much longer than she ever has been before. So Truman finds a way out of his aquarium and makes a long journey towards the apartment door. He is being brave and will find Sarah!
Reidy tells a first day of school story from the point of view of a pet left behind by a child. It’s a wonderful answer to what pets do when children leave for school and will also speak to younger siblings being left behind at home when their older siblings head to school. The emotions of Truman are clearly conveyed and his worry is tangible even though readers will know exactly what is actually happening.
Cummins’ illustrations play with perspective nicely as Truman’s point of view is shared as well as views of the busy city street below the apartment. Big and bold, the illustrations show Truman’s limited world grow bigger and bigger as he explores the apartment landscape alone.
A look at bravery and the deep love of a pet, even a small, green one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781419734076)
Nanda was born into the circle of her mother’s loving arms. As she grew, her world grew too. It grew to include more circles, branches in trees, blocks, steel, and cogs. Her world got bigger as she traveled to college where she built her own helicopter and then became a pilot. Her world continued to grow as she roared into the atmosphere aboard a space shuttle. She was bigger than she had ever been before when she stood on the moon’s surface and looked at the stars above her and Earth glowing in the sky.
Mercurio’s prose plays with perspective right from the first pages. She also includes shapes and components of engineering into Nanda’s childhood. A girl fascinated with science and engineering becomes an astronaut in this book that offers an inspiring look at a girl who grows up as her world grows around her.
The illustrations play with shapes on every page, from the patterns of trees and their branches to the quilt below plane wings made up of farmland. Even the stars above form circles at the end of the book along with Earth, guiding readers right back to the circle that the book started with.
An inspiring look at a young girl of Indian descent who reaches the stars. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan (9781368015905)
Aleeya lives with her mother in their Malaysian village. She loves spending time with her Mommy, and the two of them do everything together. Mommy also features heavily in Aleeya’s dreams which are filled with flowers and dancing. The two of them plan to always be together like this. But then Mommy gets sick and has to stay in bed. Aleeya is lost without her, but steadily starts to realize that she can be at her mother’s side, just in a different way.
This picture book brings diversity in multiple ways. There is the Malaysian setting that is richly depicted with animals and activity. The family is Muslim and prayers and head-wear are depicted. Then you have the mother get ill. While she does recover by the end of the book, it is rare that you see a mother get bedridden in a picture book and the impact of that loss explored. Here it is fully shown and Aleeya’s response is brave and loving.
The illustrations are rich and filled with color and touching moments between mother and child. Their relationship is at the center of the text and the illustrations. It is not a surprise that the illustrations are captivating, since this is a book in the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase. The talent here really shines.
A lovely look at the impact of a mother, whether she can get out of bed or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!) by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Neal Layton (9780399558184)
A little girl explains to readers what it takes to write a book. First, you need a “Good Idea” that you can get from all sorts of places, including your own brain or staring out of the window. You have to know what you are talking about in your book and also know who you are writing it for. Grandmothers are a very different audience than kids who like dump trucks. Books for babies should not be incredibly scary. Then you must concentrate and create a plan for your book. A good title is necessary too. Start strong and then fill in the middle. The ending comes last. Share the book with friends, revise as necessary. Create a cover and an “About the Author” page. Then start selling your book, perhaps with cookies as an incentive and if that doesn’t work tying a person to a chair. Maybe it’s time for a sequel?
The best part about this book is that it is a combination of complete silliness and also good information about the steps in writing a book. Lloyd-Jones uses zany humor to really get her point across about writing taking time, creativity and a willingness to revise. Still, the book is also about frightening babies, boring grandparents, tying people up, and being interesting along the way.
The illustrations help tell the story with their clever depictions of the little girl’s imaginative stories. Using a mixture of textures and patterns, they also incorporate collage elements as well. The result is a modern and silly mix that suits the book nicely.
Silly and serious all at once, this really is a book about writing a book where you will giggle along the way. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan (9780525645214)
Jasper and Ollie are best friends. At breakfast, Jasper wants to go to the pool and Ollie agrees. Jasper, the fox, wants to race to get there and runs out of the house. Along the way, he pull on his swimsuit, blows past the mailman who dumps his letters, jumps over a turtle painting a fence, and hustles past the ice cream truck. Now Jasper has to wait for Ollie though. And Ollie, the sloth, has a very different approach. He watches butterflies, smells the flowers, picks up the spilled mail, gets a drink, helps paint the fence, and gets an ice cream cone. Meanwhile Jasper is rushing around trying to see if Ollie is somewhere at the pool and manages to get himself thrown out. Luckily, that is just when Ollie arrives with ice cream cones for both of them.
Willan tells this story solely in speech bubbles. He uses framing techniques from comic books to great effect here. On the larger upper frame, he shows Jasper in his speedy desperation to find Ollie. Below, Ollie moves along quietly enjoying his walk to the pool. Jasper is often accompanied by a dashed line showing his movement over and under and around people and obstacles and usually accompanied by chaos in his wake.
The illustrations are brilliantly done with plenty of humor too. It has a wonderful aesthetic to it where the pattern of Ollie’s swimsuit is repeated on various things at the pool that Jasper searches. The illustrations are worth looking closely at to catch all of the funny moments and small touches along the way.
A combination of speed and sloth that makes for a great friendship and plenty of laughs. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Doubleday Books for Young Readers.
Albert’s Quiet Quest by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917626)
In this second book in the Mile End Kids series, Albert is looking for a quiet place to read. His house is way too noisy, so he heads to the alley behind his house. There he notices a painting of the sea at sunset and imagines he is reading on a quiet beach. But the alley starts to get busier as he sits there. Some children are working on potting a plant. Others begin a badminton game. Another girl asks Albert to watch her doll while she gets her cat. Someone else plays music and kids start to dance. It gets too be way too much for Albert, who slams his book shut and yells at the kids to be quiet. The others sneak away and quietly bring out their own books, finally shushing Albert when he tries to apologize for his outburst.
Told only in speech bubbles in the illustrations, this story is about wanting to find a bit of solitude and quiet. The building of the noise around Albert is done well, layering on top of one another. The ending though is a pleasure and a surprise as the other children get books and read too, with the picture book ending with laughter together.
Arsenault’s illustrations are wonderfully ethereal and unique. Done in a limited color palette, they have a quiet nature to them. She plays nicely with Albert’s imagination taking up double-page spreads and showing all of the children on the beach together. The cacophony takes over the pages, a brilliant show of noise and activity on the page.
Just right for quiet and loud kids alike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.