A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor (9780062796783)
Lydia was with her mother as she died and soon after is moving to rural Connecticut to live with her Aunt Brat, her wife and their elderly landlord. Lydia brings with her a box of the goddesses that she and her mother created together as they faced the good and bad in their life. She keeps them hidden from Aunt Brat and everyone at her new home, looking for a private place to hang them in honor of her mother. On the weekend after Lydia moves in, the family also adopts a big yellow dog. Lydia isn’t a dog person, having never lived with one, particularly one this large and untrained. Still, Lydia pitches in to help, something that she does a lot with a chirpy voice that doesn’t seem to belong to her. It helps her also cover up secrets like the growing hole in her wall, a tag that might help them find the yellow dog’s new owner, and even a secret of Aunt Brat’s about baby goats.
Connor’s books are always surprising in the best way. She takes very interesting characters and throws them together here in a new family with a new dog and plenty to hide. The result is a book that untangles itself slowly, revealing new truths and interesting hiding places along the way. The setting of rural Connecticut plays a large role in the story, inviting readers to explore the hills and valleys filled with farms and fields.
The characters, both human and dog, are exceptionally well drawn. No secondary character is left without a deeper story, and this is done without crowding the main story out. Still, it is Lydia’s story and she is far more than a tragic orphan who has lost her mother. Instead, she is resilient and hard working, willing to always pitch in to help. As she literally grapples with having a new dog in her life, she is also working on new human friends, fitting into a new family, and finding her way forward with new people to love.
Full of dogs, warmth and love, this is another great read from a talented author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
Birdsong by Julie Flett (9781771644730)
In the spring, a girl moves with her mother from their seaside home to one in a field of snowdrops. They have a nearby neighbor who the girl gradually gets to know. When they first move, the girl doesn’t want to draw anymore. She does love to draw and her neighbor also loves to create things, pottery in her case. As the two start talking, the girl starts to think about creating things again. As autumn arrives, the neighbor shows her what she is working on, and the girl shares some Cree names for phases of the moon, inspired by the pottery. Winter is harder for the elderly neighbor, even with salmon soup shared between them. When she becomes bedridden, the girl uses her art to create a space ready for inspiration and healing.
Flettis, a Cree-Metis author, has won many awards for her work. Here she creates a story of the disruption of moving and the discovery of another artist who inspires new ideas. The inter-generational friendship is lovingly depicted, offering a web of support where each of them takes turns showing the other care when they need it most. The entire book has a gorgeous quiet to it that allows space for creativity to thrive.
The illustrations are simple and rich. The landscapes are filled with gauzy, haze that softens the hillsides, the sky and the moon. Against this softness, the characters stand out clear and bold.
A beautiful and inspiring picture book about art and friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.
Hum and Swish by Matt Myers (9780823442867)
Jamie spends her time at the edge of the quiet beach near the waves. She is hard at work making something, but she isn’t sure what quite yet. People walk past and ask her pesky questions, but Jamie just wants to be alone with the swish of the waves and her own humming as she works. Then someone else comes to the edge of the water. She has a lot of things along with her and sets up an easel to paint. She starts to work, and Jamie asks her what she is making but the painter isn’t sure yet. Jamie agrees. The two work side-by-side silently with only the hum and swish of their work making noise. Still, they are clearly friends. Finally, Jamie is done with her sandcastle, bridge and creatures made of rocks and objects. The painter is done too and they share their work with one another.
Myers captures the intensity of a young artist who just wants to be left alone to quietly work on their project. The importance of silence and space to think and be creative is emphasized here, along with the need to not explain during the creative process. The simple and limited text in the book is used very successfully to show Jamie’s brisk responses to those who ask her questions and also her connection to the ocean and her kindred spirit.
Myers, who has illustrated several picture books previously, shows great skill in his illustrations here. From the images of Jamie and the ocean together in their isolation to the lovely connection she forms with the painter. There is a strong sense of place, of art and of introversion on the page that is very welcome.
A lovely look at creating art and finding space to be quiet. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Art Book of Sleep by Shana Gozansky (9780714878652)
This is the second board book in a series that links fine art to a single concept. In this case, the book is focused on sleep. In the book, you will find 35 images of art works from a variety of time periods and cultures that depict sleeping in a number of different ways. The book explores naps and also getting ready for bed and bedtime. It also looks at dreams and what you might see in them. The book also shows sunsets and night skies.
Accompanying the art is a simple set of sentences that cleverly tie together the disparate pieces of art. It offers a loose connectivity to the images that makes the book able to be shared aloud. The use of the connecting words is a critical element here that makes more than an art collection and turns it into a bedtime story with amazing art. Each piece of art is also labeled with its title and artist. The book ends with more information on each piece of art.
An intelligent look at art for the youngest of children. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)
This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.
Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.
All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.
A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.
Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (9780823442829)
Collage artist Roth takes a look at the amazing bowerbird and how her work and their building process compare with one another. Both she and the bowerbird are collectors of random items. They use those items to create compositions. For the bowerbird, that is a bower for their courtship process. They both like unusual objects that they use to create art, things that no one else might ever combine in that way. They both pay attention to color and both seek out praise for their work in the end.
I was really pleasantly surprised by the content and construct of this picture book. While I knew it would be about bowerbirds and humans, I didn’t expect it to be so directly related to the artistic side of both. Roth beautifully shows the fascinating correlations between her work and that of the bird. She demonstrates both in her collage illustrations and in the text of the book how similar they actually are. The text though is kept wonderfully simple, making this book about art very accessible even for young children. She completes the book with more facts about the birds and about her own work as well as a bibliography of sources.
Roth’s illustrations are fabulous. Bright and filled with objects of all kinds, they fill the page with vibrancy. Most of the pages show the bird and then Roth, each working in a similar way on their art. The result is a book about Roth’s way of making art that is also an example of the art itself. Clever stuff!
A very successful mix of nature, science and art. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.