My Forest Is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron (9781771389303)
A boy looks out from his apartment into an urban forest nearby. He considers it his forest, but his forest is also all of the art in his room that depicts what he sees outside. As he walks in his forest outside, he sees tall trees, short insects, fluffy seeds, prickly thistles, rough bark, and much more. There are heavy and light things, wide and narrow tree trunks. As he explores the forest in person, he also makes art pieces back at home that represent what he has seen. He incorporates found items like rocks and sticks. He paints and creates paper collages. He sketches in his book while seated in his forest. Every day his forest is different and he finds new sources of inspiration there.
This Lebeuf’s debut picture book. His writing is simple and celebratory. He encourages children to get out into their own forests and explore. While this forest may be large, all of the things that the boy encounters can be found in smaller urban forests too. It’s all about taking the time to slow down and notice the details. The added encouragement to make art from what you see is highly appreciated. The boy uses all sorts of media to explore the forest back at home. This book could be used as inspiration for an art class very nicely or in a story time unit to encourage making art from bits of nature.
The art by Barron is very effective. She uses clean lines and layered paper collage to create a forest that is varied and worth exploring. Her illustrations fill the page with deep colors of nature and offer an inviting look at the world around us. Her inclusion of an Asian-American family in the book is also appreciated.
A call to head outside and make art, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (9780062852571)
Amelia is stuck at home during spring break while her best friend is off in France, probably forgetting all about Amelia. Amelia spends her time with Mrs. O’Brien, the neighbor who has helped care for her for most of her life. She also goes to the local art studio in her Madison, Wisconsin neighborhood and works on her pottery. When she is there one day, she meets Casey, a boy who is trying to rescue his parents’ marriage without much success. As Amelia and Casey start to become friends with a shared sense of humor and love of art, they notice a woman hanging around the area who looks a lot like Amelia, but Amelia’s mother died ten years ago. Is she a ghost? Has Amelia’s entire life been a lie? The two set out to discover the truth.
Henkes’ excels at both novels for children and picture books. His novels are like small gems. His writing is focused and lovely, exploring the intense emotions of childhood without mocking them at all. Instead, he endows them with a deep understanding and empathy, demonstrating how small untruths can turn larger in unexpected ways. Henkes looks closely at young artists in this book, exploring how art can convey emotions, serve as a release, and connect people to one another.
Amelia is a detailed character, a girl who is lonely in a very deep way. With a dead mother and a distant father, she is close to her babysitter, but missing her friends too. Casey is feeling a sorrow and grief for his parents’ dissolving marriage. Both children have a powerlessness to them as well that turns into action as they work together to solve who the unknown woman actually is. A warning, this is not a mystery story but instead a more quiet character study.
Henkes once again stuns with his deep connection to his characters and his skill as a writer. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
A Web by Isabelle Simler (9781441328434)
A spider takes a look at the things around her and then demonstrates her skill as a webmaker and an artist. The book features all sorts of items from the spider’s world. There are twigs, feathers, pebbles, insects, leaves, flowers, and more. With each spread of a variety of different kinds of these items, each item is labeled and the pages are filled with details worth exploring. Sharp-eyed readers will notice a spider lurking nearby. At first this is subtle, but soon the black legs of the spider are impossible to miss. When her art is unveiled at the end, readers will realize the care with which she has chosen from the wide array of different pieces for her work.
Simler’s text is minimal, offering basically the category that the items fall into and then labels for each item. The splendor of this title are the finely detailed illustrations that invite readers in. Children who love to categorize items or enjoy nature will love to pore over the pages here. The addition of the art at the end is a splendid surprise for readers who thought they were in a more serious nonfiction book.
Expect children to want to hold this on their laps and really look at the illustrations. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mallko and Dad by Gusti (9781592702596)
This autobiographical picture book takes a raw and impassioned look at fatherhood and unconditional love. It is the story of the author and his son who was born with Down Syndrome. Mallko was not what his father was expecting, and Gusti did not accept his son at first. Steadily though, he quickly realized that Mallko was complete and fine as he was. Mallko’s mother and older brother accepted him much faster, showing Gusti the way forward. The book explores Mallko, his humor and his life. His art is shown side-by-side with his father’s on the pages. This is a book that is a clarion call for parents to realize that their children don’t need to change to be loved, they are worthy of it always.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is Gusti’s willingness to be this open about his hesitation of having a child who is different than he was expecting. Gusti does not try to rationalize his response or make apologies for it. It is clear he is pained by how he first reacted and is making up for those days of doubt. The rest of the book simply celebrates Mallko and exactly who he is. He is captured in a rainbow of images, cartoons capturing his activities, playing with his family, and simply being a child. It is a breathtaking display of love and feels like Gusti put his heart on every page.
An incredible book that is a picture book, but as thick as a novel thanks to the quantity of images crammed inside waiting to inspire you to love. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)
The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.
The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.
This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.
Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.
Hey, Wall by Susan Verde, illustrated by John Parra (9781481453134)
This picture book tells the story of a large, blank wall and a boy who sees the possibilities in it. The wall is cold and empty, ignored. People walk past, skateboard by. In the winter, dirty snow is shoveled up against it. Though flowers poke up through the sidewalk, they don’t visit the wall. Then the boy decides to change things. He and his friends come together to create a plan for the wall that with a lot of creativity and hard work becomes a new mural that reflects all of the action in the community around it.
Verde uses the feeling of free verse and spoken word here. It works particularly well with the urban setting. In the story she shows the importance of art, both street art like community murals and art that comes from children and communities. In today’s world, there can’t be a picture book simply about a wall. This book shows that walls can be more than dividers, instead bringing a community together.
Parra’s illustrations have a great organic quality to them, filled with textures. He shows an urban community full of diversity and gatherings together. There is a folk art aspect to his work that translates beautifully into the mural the children create.
A picture book about walls that bring us closer to one another and the power of art to create community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Imagine by Raul Colon (9781481462730)
This wordless picture book invites readers to be inspired by fine art in a playful yet profound way. A boy skateboards over to the Museum of Modern Art. He views several paintings that make him stop and look. Soon the paintings have come to life with the boy entering the scene and the characters in the paintings entering the real world. Together they all traverse New York City and have several seminal experiences together. They climb the Statue of Liberty, ride the Cyclone, take the subway, and even stop for a hotdog. After a visit to Central Park, they return to the museum. On his way home, the boy is inspired to create a mural on a blank wall near his home, inspired by the three paintings.
Don’t miss Colon’s Author’s Note at the end of the book where he speaks to the power of fine art to inspire young artists. Colon saw master artworks later in his life and was still inspired by them, yet he wonders what impact seeing them as a child would have had. Colon has created a picture book that is a tribute to the power of art and the ability for it to inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. It is also a tribute to New York City as they tour around the sights and enjoy a day on the town.
In a wordless picture book, the onus is on the art to carry the entire book. As always, Colon’s art is inspiring itself. His use of texture through lines and softening by using dots makes his work unique in the picture book world. His illustrations glow with light, whether they are interior images or out in Central Park.
An exceptional wordless picture book, this one is a must-have for libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
3 x 4 by Ivan Brunetti (9781943145348)
This clever picture book mixes art and math. A teacher assigns the class to draw twelve things but in sets. The class asks what the sets could be and the book quickly reviews the different ways of multiplying to get to twelve. It is done in a way that is friendly and part of the story. The children all go home and look for sets to draw. Annemarie struggles to figure out what to draw. It could be different cars, but there are too many types. Other children quickly figure theirs out: sports items, shapes, fruit, dogs, houses, monsters, trees and more. Annemarie is inspired by her own house full of musical instruments. When the pictures are revealed at school, each child has done a unique interpretation of the assignment and readers have learned far more about sets and multiplication than they will realize.
Brunetti is an art teacher who assigns this type of challenge to his college students but in a much more complicated way. This simple version makes for an interesting read, offering all sorts of ways to meet the challenge. Each child takes inspiration from their own family and home, making it very personal. Brunetti includes diverse children throughout the story with his round-headed toy-like people filling the page.
Add this one to your collection for a math win. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Toon Books.
A boy heads to stay with his grandfather and is clearly not excited to be there. The two of them eat different foods, the grandfather has ramen and the boy has a hotdog and fries. When they try to talk together, they don’t even speak the same language as one another. When they try to watch TV, the language barrier reappears and the grandson walks away. He gets out his sketchpad and markers and starts to draw. Quickly, his grandfather joins him with his own pad of paper, brushes and ink. Soon the two of them are drawing together, communicating and seeing one another for the first time. It’s not all perfect, sometimes the distance reappears but it can be bridged with art that combines both of them into one amazing adventure.
The story here is mostly told in images with many of the pages having no text at all. The text that is there though moves the story ahead, explains what is happening at a deep level and fills in the blanks for readers. Santat’s illustrations are phenomenal. He manages to clearly show the child’s art and the grandfather’s art as distinct and unique while then moving to create a cohesive whole between them that is more than the sum of the two. This is pure storytelling in art form and is exceptionally done.
Look for this one to be on award lists! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.