Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Sister Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess

Cover image for Make Meatballs Sing.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Sister Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kara Kramer (9781592703166)

Corita Kent was a remarkable pop-artist who was also a nun, a teacher and an activist. From a small child, Corita showed kindness and empathy for others and also a love of art and creativity. Her father wanted her to do something original, and Corita certainly did. She surprised her family by becoming a nun, discovering a love of teaching and training new teachers. She joined the art faculty at Immaculate Heart College, where she discovered a love of silkscreen printing. Soon her art was winning competitions. Corita continued to teach classes and make her own art, which spoke to social justice and against poverty and war. She transformed a rather formal celebration into one of bright colors and activity. Not everyone approved of what Corita was doing, and she surprised the people around her once again, asking to be released from her religious vows. She found places for her largest work, painted on a gigantic tank, and her smallest, a rainbow postage stamp.

While Kent may not be a household name, many of us have seen her work on the iconic postage stamp. This picture book embraces her unusual life, celebrating the decisions she made, the art she created and her voice for social change. The book cleverly pulls out elements of how Kent taught and created her art, offering unique perspectives gained by seeing the world in a fresh way. The writing here is engaging and offers a tone of delight as Kent continues to surprise and amaze.

The bright and vibrant art in the book shares elements of Kent’s own work. Her play with lettering and words appear throughout the illustrations of the book, filling tree trunks, coloring margins, and as posters on the walls. The entire book is a delight of collage, typography and riotous color.

A positive and affirming look at an artist who should be better known. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

All We Need by Kathy Wolff

Cover image for All We Need.

All We Need by Kathy Wolff, illustrated by Margaux Meganck (9781619638747)

This picture book explores what we need to live. That includes essentials like air, food and water, then the book also explores the importance of learning opportunities, having a home, and the joy of family and friends. Told in poetic text, the book explores the necessities in ways that show how they bring special moments to our lives. For example, air is explained first as stillness and deep breaths. Food is explored both for filling bellies but also through the illustrations as cultural connection. This picture book takes simple essentials and shows the way they allow us to form community and inclusion.

Wolff’s poetic writing establishes those connections clearly, exploring the deep connection we have to air, water, food and one another. The book ends by establishing what we should do when we have enough or more than we need. Sharing becomes just as essential as the other elements here, connecting to new people and a larger community through generosity and giving.

Meganck’s illustrations are bright and colorful with a diverse cast of characters, including diverse races, religions and LGBT representation. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, showing playful elements of air and water. The images are given several full-page wordless spreads that reveal new ways to connect and form community with one another.

A look at sharing, connection and being human. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Ten Thousand Tries by Amy Makechnie

Cover image for Ten Thousand Tries.

Ten Thousand Tries by Amy Makechnie (9781534482296)

Golden knows that this is the year that he will become captain of his school soccer team. He’s been working toward a goal of practicing ten thousand times in order to master the sport. After all, his father was a pro soccer player, though now he is battling ALS, a progressive disease that is stealing his ability to use his muscles. Golden believes that as long as his father keeps on trying, he can prevent the disease from worsening. And sometimes it even seems like it is working. Golden tries to keep control of everything, making sure that his year is as perfect as possible, but there are so many things outside of his control. The soccer year doesn’t work quite as Golden planned, one of his best friends plans to move away, and his father continues to decline. Golden may need a different approach to all of these things if he is to look after his family and friends well.

Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. In this second book, she writes a heartfelt story about grief and denial. While the book has soccer as a major focus, she writes it in a way that allows the games to make sense for those of us who may not know the rules. Even in the games, the clear purpose is teamwork and supporting one another, things that Golden needs to figure out in the rest of his life too. She creates amazing moments throughout the book of deep connection with one another, wise choices and intangible joys that appear out of nowhere. It’s a book about loss but also about life.

Golden is a remarkable protagonist. He is so deeply in denial that at first his rationales make sense to both him and the reader. As the book and his father’s ALS progress though, the reader steadily realizes that Golden is struggling more profoundly. It’s beautifully done with grace and with a deep empathy for Golden and his family. The secondary characters in the book are all richly drawn, including Golden’s two best friends who have struggles of their own and his family members.

A heart-rending look at grief, this book embraces the joy of life too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.

We All Play by Julie Flett

We All Play by Julie Flett (9781771646079)

Children and animals both love to play. This picture book incorporates Cree words into the narrative. Animals play in the grass, hopping, sniffing, sneaking. They peek and peep. Children play too, leaping through the grass or laying down in it. Animals swim and so do children. Animals slide and rumble and wiggle, just like children sledding in the snow. Animals settle down, roosting and yawning, finally falling asleep. Children do too.

Told in very simple language, woven with Cree words, this picture book shows the connection the natural world and its value to children in particular. The Cree words repeat with the children themselves saying them, something that would be great to do in a story time when this book is shared. The illustrations show a diverse group of children playing outside, acting just like the animals. A glossary of Cree words is offered at the end of the book along with a list of the animals who appear on the pages.

A frolic of a picture book that speaks to the importance of outdoor play. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

News to Wake Your Brain Cells – July 23

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Floyd Cooper, acclaimed children’s illustrator, dead at 65 – AL

LIBRARIES

It checks out — libraries are an “investment that’s well worth it” – Marketplace

YA LIT

15 best young adult books: from historical fiction to romantic comedies – The Independent

‘Future girl’ wins 2021 Readings YA book prize – Books+Publishing

Malcolm X series in the works from activist icon’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, Sony’s TriStar – Variety

Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz

Cover image for Paletero Man.

Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player (9780063014442)

It’s the hottest day in the hottest month in Los Angeles, so a boy heads out with his money to find the paletero cart, hoping that his favorite flavor is still available. The first cart that he finds is the tamale cart, but that’s not what he wants today. Ms. Lee has Korean BBQ for sale, but he won’t even stop for a sample. He runs past the bike shop too, not stopping to visit. Finally, he finds Paletero Joe in the park and there is still some pineapple flavor left. But when he reaches into his pocket, all of his money is gone. Luckily, all of the business owners he ran past noticed him dropping his money and are all there at the park to return it to him.

A story of delicious food set against the urban LA cityscape, this picture book shows a strong, connected and diverse community. The various foods from different cultures are all celebrated as the narrator dashes past them looking for his desired cool treat. Diaz manages to write a rhyming picture book that is merry and bright, never becoming sing-songy but instead incorporating Spanish to create many of the rhymes.

The illustrations cleverly show the money dropping out the boy’s pockets though readers may miss it the first time they read the book. The illustrations are bold and bright, reflecting the colors of the paletero and showing the diverse people in a bright and friendly urban neighborhood.

A great read-aloud just right if you have popsicles to share. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown

Cover image for Fred Gets Dressed.

Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown (9780316200646)

Fred loves to be naked. He runs through the house wild and free. He thinks he may never get dressed, but then discovers the closet in his parents’ bedroom. First, he tries on his Dad’s clothes, including a shirt, tie and pair of shoes. But he has trouble putting them on and they don’t fit right. He looks at his mother’s side of the closet. He picks out a blouse, scarf and some shoes. He doesn’t have any trouble putting them on in an outfit. Now he needs some additional touches, like some jewelry and maybe some makeup. That’s when his parents come in the room. His mother shows him how to put the makeup on and how to do hair. Soon all of the family, even the dog, are all dressed up together in a marvelous mix of outfits.

Brown uses simple wording to show a young boy exploring with nakedness and then playing dress up. The parents he shows are clearly unconcerned with the naked child running all around the house. His merriment is wonderful to see as is their casual response. As Fred tries on his mother’s clothes and then gets “caught” the reaction of the parents is perfection as they join in the fun but also show Fred some new skills along the way.

Brown’s art is always marvelous. Here his palette is an unusual mix of greens, vivid pink and browns. The result is a modern yet classic feel.

A charmer of a picture book that celebrates freedom from gender norms. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures by Curtis Manley

Cover image of The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures.

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781250246714)

Roberta spends her time rescuing tiny creatures. She flips over pillbugs and moves worms from sidewalks. But everyone around her doesn’t understand. Her classmates make fun of her and her teacher insists that she wash her hands. At home, her cat helps out and so does her little brother, watching as she takes the ladybug outside safely. Some of the creatures, Roberta gets to know better before she has to release them. Others are only welcome in certain places and still others bite. If Roberta finds a dead creature, she collects them to look at how beautiful they are. When spiders emerge at school, Roberta is able to figure out a solution that has everyone helping out and gets the spiders safely outside. After the spider excitement, Maria approaches Roberta at recess and the two dream of all of the larger animals they can rescue together, maybe with a bit more help.

Manley takes the ickiness of bugs and worms away and instead celebrates them as creatures worthy of saving. Roberta is a wonderful example of what paying attention to small things can become, showing a deep kindness towards all lifeforms and the brain of a scientist as she gathers more information. With the spider incident at school, Roberta fully comes into her own as she takes her knowledge and turns it into shared action. It’s a brilliant and affirming moment that becomes a way to connect with others with similar interests.

Cummins uses her signature simple illustrations to great effect here. Their whimsical nature adds to the special appeal of insects and bugs and show how Roberta feels connected to them.

A buggy book of daily heroism. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

Cover image for The Legend of Auntie Po.

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor (9780525554882)

The Paul Bunyan myth gets transformed by a young Chinese-American girl growing up in the logging camps in this graphic novel. Mei shares her stories about Auntie Po just as freely as she shares her stellar pies. She is the daughter of the camp cook and helps out her father in the kitchen. The manager of the camp loves her pies and is friends with her father, but that only goes so far. The Chinese men logging are fed separately. When her father is fired, Mei is left behind at the camp with her best friend. Mei uses her stories of Po Pan Yin, Auntie Po, to give all of the children in the camp a heroine they can believe in. Mei must find a way through the politics of race and privilege to find a future for herself and her father in America.

Khor offers a mix of tall tale and riveting real life in this graphic novel. She weaves in LGBT elements as Mei has feelings for Bee, her best friend. The use of sharing tales to provide comfort combines seamlessly with also offering food. Mei is a girl with a future that seems out of reach much of the time, but comes into focus by the end of the book. The book looks directly at racism in the years after the Chinese Exclusion Act and offers a mixture of characters that are racist and allies for Mei to encounter and deal with.

The art focuses on the characters themselves, sometimes offering glimpses of the Sierra Nevada scenery too. Chapters begin with different logging tools being featured and described. The art is full of bold colors, the huge Auntie Po, and the busyness of a logging camp and its kitchen.

A fascinating look at logging from a Chinese-American point of view combined with some really tall tales. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.