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

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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.)

3 New Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier
(9780316360302)

First written in 1975, the poem at the heart of this picture book speaks directly to young African-American children. It encourages them to be who they truly are. To learn all that they can learn. To be strong and be leaders for themselves, their communities and their country. If they do all of that, their country may just change to be what they want it to be. The poem is profoundly simple yet speaks deep truths that uplift children of color to fully be the wonderful people that they are. The illustrations by Collier are exceptional. He ties the children directly to role models like President Obama and Mae Jemison. Using collage and paintings, the illustrations are layered and lovely. A call for young people of color to stand up and change their country, this picture book belongs on the shelves of every public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson (9781554989140)

Written in both Cree and English, this picture book quietly celebrates three generations of women in a Cree family. As the grandmother gets ready, a little girl and her mother wait. They all walk out into the fields together, then they all pray. They gather yarrow together, the mother a little bit more slowly than the others. Then they are done! Told in very simple sentences of just a few words, this picture book shows written Cree, Cree in English letters and also English. There is a gentle solemnity to the book, a feeling of importance and family. The illustrations are done in acrylic and show the landscape and also the three very different members of the family as they work together. Beautifully presented, this is a glimpse into modern Cree life for young readers. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562614)

This book directly challenges the idea that princesses must have straight golden tresses in order to be proper royalty. In this picture book, princesses come in all colors and their hair comes in all sorts of types and styles. There are puffs, dreadlocks, frohawks, head wraps, afros, kinks, and much much more. The text here is joyous as it celebrates each type of hairstyle with rhythm and rhyme. Happily, the illustrations have girls of color outnumbering those who appear to be white. This is a book about differences and similarities that make it just fine to be royal no matter what type of princess hair you might be sporting. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library  copy.)

Happy Holidays!

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I’ll be taking a little holiday break over the next week to spend time with family and will return in January with my top picks for 2017! I promise to try to keep my lists to a sensible size, though I do seem to fail every year. There are always so many great books to recommend.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of you!

4 Great Graphic Novels

5 Worlds The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel (9781101935880)

This is the first book in an epic new graphic novel series that promises lots of adventures across five different worlds. Oona Lee studies at the Sand Dancer Academy but she is known as a failed student. When an attack occurs, Oona knows she has to reach her older sister, who can actually sand dance and is the best bet for being able to light the Beacon. Along the way, she meets two other children who are willing to help her. There is An Tzu, a boy from the slums who is starting to disappear, literally. And Jax Amboy, one of the biggest athletes in the galaxy, who is also hiding his own secret. As the three join together, they set off on a wild ride of an adventure that reveals their secrets and their hidden skills.

This graphic novel is bright colored and full of surprises as readers learn about the new science fiction setting they are exploring. There are plant people, lots of bad guys, secret identities, intrigue and lies. It’s a wild ride of a graphic novel and one that is sure to please many young readers. Just make sure to get the second one in the series next year! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar by Sean Rubin (9781684150694)

Bolivar is a dinosaur living in the bustle and crowds of New York City without ever being discovered. He doesn’t just stay at home, venturing out into the city to visit the used book store, see new exhibits at the museums, and buy a copy of the New Yorker. Then a neighbor girl notices that Bolivar is a dinosaur. Sybil tries to get the adults in her life to believe her, even giving a presentation at school about her dinosaur neighbor. No one believes her until one day, Bolivar gets a traffic ticket despite not having a car. He tries to set things straight, but it just gets more and more complicated until he is suddenly outed as a dinosaur by Sybil who then has to figure out how to repair things.

This graphic novel is brilliant. Clearly designed with a deep love of New York City, the neighborhood is captured with an eye for small details and invites readers to also fall for the great City. The ability of adults and humans to miss the fact that there is a dinosaur right in front of them is a great basis for a book and completely believable. The art is distinctive and inviting as is the humor and the pace. Pure joy in a graphic novel that will have you believing in Bolivar too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale (9781419721281)

Strata, her brother and a friend from their caravan spend their days scavenging for technology and metals that have been overlooked by the alien Pipers. One day they discover a robot horse and then a hidden room filled with other robots and technology. The problem is that large areas of technology draw in the Pipers and soon they are being pursued for their discovery. Strata uses the robot horse to run with her friends, but the rough world outside that has been eaten away at by the invading alien Pipers makes for a daunting maze. Meanwhile, their families are searching for them as they discover another girl living a very different but equally dangerous life.

Hale has created an entirely unique science fiction graphic novel. He uses a very restrained color palette, allowing the golden robot horse to be some of the only bright color on the page. Using fine lines, grays and yellows, the story shows a devastated earth, the oppressors and a frightening future. Filled with great adventure and heroic young people, this is a story worth devouring. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Review copy received from Amulet Books.)

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (9781770462939)

This graphic novel tells the story of the author’s childhood as a girl in Iraq. The book shares small glimpses of life in Iraq, schools, families and more. It is a lovely way to see a culture. Unfortunately, there is also state control as Saddam Hussein comes into power and things change. Throughout the book, there is a sense of history being shared as an adult, of a beloved land lost and a country so changed it is almost unrecognizable and yet filled with family still. The art is playful and light, a strong contrast to the often heavy subject matter. Religion plays a large part in the book as the author grew up in a Christian family in an Arab part of the world. Deftly written, this book invites readers into the author’s story and leaves them with a much deeper understanding of Iraq as a result. Appropriate for ages 12-14.  (Reviewed from library copy.)