Review: Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri (9780763698980)

Explore the changing seasons through this exceptional book. With text that focuses on the various aspects of each season, this book invites you to look more closely at nature and the small events that take place. There is nest building in the spring, caterpillars turning into butterflies, and blossoms emerging. In the summer, swallows fly, the meadow grows, crickets chirp, bees buzz, green leaves emerge. The autumn arrives with leaves turning color, berries and nuts, geese flying south. In the winter, hibernation starts and branches turn bare.

The text of this book is filled with facts yet at the same time offer a sense of wonder at what is happening at nature around us. These small glimpses of nature form a larger image of the natural world for young readers.

As good as the text is though, it is nothing compared to the illustrations of this book. Uniquely designed out of pressed flowers and leaves, they are mesmerizing and achingly lovely. The larger animals are spectacular in their delicate beauty and so are the smaller animals and plants. Throughout there is a grace of line and delight. An organic look at nature in all of its beauty. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst (9781328729453)

Mayka is a stone girl, created by Father, a stone mason who lived alone with his stone creations on a mountain. Father died years ago and now some of Mayka’s friends, whose markings are wearing off with age, are in danger of becoming statues instead of living stone. So Mayka decides to see if she can find a stone mason to recarve her friends, though that will mean heading away from the her quiet home in the mountains into the valley below. Mayka is accompanied on her quest by two stone birds who can fly and talk. Their journey leads them to the large city of Skye, where there is a stone mason’s quarter. Mayka finds someone willing to help them, but along the way discovers that there is a threat to all stone creatures brewing. Mayka has to create her own story as she seeks to find a solution that will save not only her friends but everyone made of stone.

Durst has created a compelling stand-alone fantasy book for middle graders. The world building is warm and lovely, unrolling like a carpet before the reader. She incorporates a sense of history into her world, allowing Mayka to discover things about Father that she had never known. The book revolves around reading and stories, with markings carved into the stone creatures that set their roles in the world. Markings that can be read by a clever storyteller to be even more evocative and reworked by a stone mason to say something else entirely and create a new life for that creature.

Mayka is a strong heroine, as one might expect from a girl made of stone. She is far more capable and clever than she realizes, though others around her know that about her and trust her completely. She not only identifies problems but figures out solutions to them quickly, moving her story forward at a brisk pace. My only quibble with the book is the cover. The scene it shows happens very late in the book and not in the way it is shown. A pet peeve of mine and certainly not a reason to miss this book!

A great fantasy for children, this one is warm and delightful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by the author.

3 New Noisy Picture Books

Blacksmith_s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

Blacksmith’s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Anna Rich (9781561455805)

Told in first person, this picture book shows how communication worked for the Underground Railroad. The boy’s father is a slave on a plantation, working as the blacksmith. He uses the rhythm of the forge to send messages that carry to those waiting to escape. The boy wonders when it will be their turn to escape to freedom. But day by day, his father is growing weaker and more ill. Soon he may not be able to even send the messages from his hammer. When it is finally their turn to leave, it is the boy who takes up the hammer, sending his first message and his father’s last as they head to freedom.

Rich with language, this picture book takes the words of the forge and let them shine. Throughout smoke, sparks and the hammer’s rhythm form a steady beat that the book uses very successfully. The added tension of the father’s illness brings even more pressure for the family to escape in time. While slavery is painted with a gentler brush here for younger audiences, the feeling of oppression is strong and the need to escape is clear. The illustrations are deep and dark, lit by the light of the forge and showing that dark unknowns are safer than slavery. A look at the Underground Railroad that is appropriate for young listeners aged 5-7. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Peachtree Publishers.)

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Eric Comstock (9781481480048)

When the words in Noah Webster’s dictionary get bored just sitting around, they escape and create plenty of word fun in this picture book. They form a word parade made of works like “clang” and “boom” and “crash.” There are short words and long words, action verbs pick up the pace. Homophones, contractions, antonyms and palindromes fill the pages too. Rhyming words and words with no rhymes as well as interjections and conjunctions make merry. There is plenty to enjoy here, including witty humor and a rip-roaring pace. Children won’t even realize they are learning concepts as each of the letters has a personality that suits the word they are in. Jazzy and delightful, this picture book is a celebration of our language. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.)

Rumble Grumble...Hush by Kate Banks

Rumble Grumble…Hush by Kate Banks, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781101940495)

The day starts with a few small noises until the little boy starts to play loudly with his imaginary friends. There is roaring, banging, rumbling and dumping. Then it’s time for a bit of quiet with breakfast and thinking until once again the rumbling and grumbling starts. More quiet comes, with a bag of quiet games, puzzles and art projects, books to read and a nap. Then noise is welcome again with balls and toys and blocks and trains. Dinner comes and goes and bedtime approaches with its own quiet. The way that noise and quiet are presented here is lovely, showing they both have places and special ways of playing that allow them to happen. Loud and quiet times are filled with play and imagination here and parental expectations are shown with lots of love and support. The illustrations are playful with friendly huge imaginary friends that fill the page, dark wood floors to sit on and play, bright walls to hang art on, and plenty of room for imaginations to fill. A warm and loving look at play and noise, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

3 New Picture Books about Amazing Women

Brave Jane Austen Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781627796439)

This picture book biography looks at the childhood and life of Jane Austen, focusing on how she was raised in a poor family where her father ran a boarding school in their home for boys, including Jane’s six brothers. Jane’s mother worked hard keeping the house, the garden and the animals. It was a bustling household and Jane spent her childhood listening and learning. Her father had a large library with hundreds of books and they spent their evenings being read to. Jane knew that boys and girls were treated very differently from one another and that her family was struggling financially. She was sent away to a boarding school herself but returned home after becoming ill. She spent her recovery time reading the books from her father’s library. She returned to school once more, but money soon ran out and she came home. She began to dream of being a writer and started creating characters who did not match society’s expectations either. Jane continued to write, even though her books were not published at first. Once published, she began to live more comfortably than before but died at a young age of 41, not seeing the last of her books come to publication.

Pliscou shows Austen’s tenacity in this picture book biography. This is not a biography for very young children, but one with plenty of detail and interesting tidbits for those in elementary school. The focus here is on Austen’s personal struggles, her intolerance for societal norms, her wit and her skill. Corace’s illustrations are filled with rosy-cheeked characters surrounded by detailed settings that embrace them. The greens of the countryside, the purple blush of first love, and wallpapers all wrap this book into a colorful package for readers.

A nonfiction picture book about one of our greatest women writers, this belongs in all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Girl Running Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimental, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781101996683)

At school, Bobbi is not allowed to be on the school’s track team because she’s a girl and those are the rules. But after school, Bobbi loves to run. She lives near where the Boston Marathon is held and she longs to join the race, but women are not allowed to participate. Bobbie trains anyway, running longer distances than even the marathon. She takes a trip across the country in the summer and runs in her nurse’s shoes through several states. She runs in all weather, but still she is not allowed to join the marathon. Bobbi does not give up, instead she comes up with a plan to join the marathon unofficially and run. When she takes off her bulky sweatshirt disguise, people realize that a girl is running the race. As Bobbi runs in her new shoes, the pain of blisters slows her down. But she completes the race, coming in 124th. The officials refuse to give her a medal, but Bobbi has proven something far more valuable.

The afterword in the book provides more information on how long Gibb trained and the fact that in 1996 she retroactively was named the female winner of the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Boston Marathons. Gibb’s story shows tremendous resolve and a desire to break through patriarchal boundaries that were artificially holding women back in sports and life. Told in very simple prose, this picture book biography is approachable and easily relatable to anyone who wonders about how women finally were taken seriously in sports. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with dazzling yellows and deep blues.

A strong picture book about an inspiring figure in women’s sports. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.)

Libba The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (9781452148571)

When Libba was a little girl, she heard music everywhere, so she would borrow her brother’s guitar to play the music in her head. Her brother was right handed though, so Libba would need to play his guitar upside down and backward. When her brother left home, he took his guitar with him so Libba worked small jobs to earn enough money for her own guitar. She wrote her first song at age thirteen and played the guitar all the time. But then life happened and Libba stopped playing. Late in her life, Libba got a job as a housekeeper for a musical family, the Seegers, connected to many of the great musicians of the time. Eventually, she picked up a guitar and played it and the family heard her play. Soon she was playing large venues and her first song, Freight Train, was heard around the world.

In this delicate and gentle biography, first-time picture book author Veirs who is also a musician, captures the life and the music of Cotten. She includes an author’s note that speaks more to the limited options for an African-American woman in the segregated South. The illustrations are very special, done in the organic warmth of graphite with digital color added, they glow on the page.

Share this picture book biography with musicians of all ages and then listen to Cotten’s songs together as she plays upside down and backwards. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright

Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781512498622)

Nina Crews has selected some of Richard Wright’s haiku about his childhood and created an inviting picture book out of them. The haiku focus on the seasons, the outdoors and universal childhood experiences. There are winding dirt roads, yellow kites, blue skies, rainy days, trees and insects. Each haiku is a small window into simple childhood joys and moments that are more meaningful than one might think. They invite us all to slow down, dream a bit and enjoy the nature around us.

Crews adds modern zing to these poems with her photography. Using a series of photographs that fit together into a whole, they are layered and fascinating. African-American children are forefront in the images that then branch and reach across the page, paving the pages with hope and wonder.

A dynamic look at one of the top African-American poets of the 21st century, this book of poetry is a celebration. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Millbrook Press.

2018 Notable Children’s Books

Notable seal image

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has released their list of notable children’s books for 2018. The list contains books for children ages birth through 14 years old and is broken into age ranges. There are lots of favorites from the last year on the list. Enjoy!

 

2018 Rainbow List

This list offers the best of LGBTQIA+ books for children and teens, ages birth through 18. There are 48 books on the list. Here are the top ten:

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The ABC's of LGBT+

The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell

Baby's First Words

Baby’s First Words by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens, illustrated by Christiane Engel

The Backstagers, Vol. 1 (The Backstagers, Volume One)

The Backstagers, Vol 1 by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh

Dress Codes for Small Towns

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Felix Yz

Felix XY by Lisa Bunker

Ramona Blue

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Star-Crossed

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

We Are Okay

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

 

3 New Biographies of Great Women

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James R. Ransome (9780823420476)

Told in reverse chronological order, this picture book biography of Harriet Tubman is stunning. The verse walks readers through her life, from her work with runaway slaves to her speeches as a suffragist. The book touches on other parts of her life that readers may not be aware of such as her work as a Union spy and a nurse. The book moves all the way back to Harriet saving her family from slavery and then her own time enslaved on a plantation when her father taught her about the woods and the stars, creating an opportunity for Harriet to become the amazing woman she was. The poetry of this book is beautiful and spare, it moves from one important moment in Harriet’s life to another, spooling out her life’s story. The illustrations by Ransome are beautiful, playing with light and dark. The images stop readers just to gaze when the page is turned as they capture one moment after another. An important and lovely book about Harriet Tubman that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (ARC provided by Holiday House.)

Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (9781454920007)

This picture book offers a friendly and approachable look at the life of Grace Hopper, one of the most important and influential computer geniuses of history. Even as a child Grace spent her time figuring out how things worked and designing devices. She attended Vassar College where she studied math and physics and also found adventures like going up in a plane. She attended graduate school in Yale, one of two women in her class. When World War II came, Grace wanted to help and tried to join the Navy. At first they would not accept her, but after a year she convinced them. She wrote programs for the first computers, coining the term “computer bug” when a moth flew in and stopped the computer from working. She created the way that computers can be programmed using language rather than 1s and zeroes.

Wallmark also shares a timeline of Hopper’s life at the end of the book that shows even more of her accomplishments over her long career. She also makes sure to share Hopper’s personal verve for life and her approach to creativity, moving the book away from what could have been too distant and factual into one that children can relate to easily. Wu’s illustrations capture that feeling as well, showing Hopper hard at work and yet enjoying daredevil time and teamwork. A great picture book biography that will add a lot to STEM collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nina Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance (9781580898270)

This picture book is a completely engrossing look at the life of Nina Simone. Done in a way that welcomes even small children to hear her story, the book opens with a greeting and a lullaby. Using piano keys as an allegory for race, the book looks at the keys through the eyes of a young Nina, who notices that white keys are whole notes while black keys are half notes. She sees something similar in society as well. Nina used music as a way to unite and to protest. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., her music spoke to people of all color and united them. While the story follows a linear path in time, the information shared focuses on important events in Nina’s life rather than feeling like a chronological list of accomplishments or dates. Instead readers get to see what influenced her and how she grew into her voice as an activist. The illustrations are particularly compelling. Done in black and white, the image of people who arranged as piano keys and the one of dandelion seeds floating downward are particularly compelling. Smart and beautifully designed. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)