When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)
This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.
It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.
As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.
Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell (9780823446186)
Journey into the gentle world of Fred Rogers and the neighborhood and community he created on his iconic television show for children. Children are immediately shown the sets for the TV show and then carried back to Fred’s childhood playing the piano and making puppets. When he first saw television, Fred realized that an opportunity was being wasted and that this new media could be a tool for education. He began to work in television as well as studying about children and their needs. His television show launched in 1968 and quickly became embraced by children and families. His show broke many barriers, speaking to children with respect, broaching difficult subjects, and offering real diversity and inclusion in his neighborhood.
There are several picture book about Mister Rogers out this year, but this is the only authorized one. It is also the only one created by Caldecott Medalist Cordell who beautifully captures the spirit of Mister Rogers on the page. From his way of looking directly into the camera and right to the child in the room to his songs, his puppets and much more. Just as with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Cordell’s entire book has a gentle nature to it, offering a place to find safety and acceptance.
Given his skill as an illustrator, it should be no surprise that Cordell’s illustrations are well done. Here they invite readers behind the scenes of creating a TV show. They also capture the lyrics of songs sung on every episode by Mister Rogers. Glimpses of important shows are offered throughout, something that will offer a little thrill to fans of the series.
Gentle, lovely and pure Mister Rogers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.
The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (9780763690489)
This is the story of an amazing mathematical genius who was born in India in 1887. He sees math everywhere, contemplating what small and big actually meant. When he started school, the teacher was not interested in his questions, so Ramanujan got bored and tried to sneak away to think his own thoughts. He wondered about the infinity possible in ordinary objects like mango that can be sliced again and again. Doing sums at school, he figured out the sums inside the sums they were doing, once again breaking things down. As he grows up, he reinvents mathematics, working from college textbooks and solving all of the problems. Still, he is just an unknown person in India, how can he find someone who understands what he is doing?
The joy of discovering Ramanujan’s math is that even for children or those who are not mathematically inclined, his theories resonate and encourage everyone to start thinking beyond the strictness of school math. Alznauer pays homage to this great genius, showing how he grew up, how he thought and how he was misunderstood for a very long time until being discovered by mathematicians in England.
The art is done in ink that flows at times like watercolors. Miyares captures the glow of invention, the heat of imagination in his illustrations. He also shows the solitude of Ramanujan in a captivating way.
Rich and fascinating, this picture book biography opens new worlds of mathematics to its readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera (9781419734113)
Gwendolyn Brooks grew up in Chicago, raised in a family that loved words, books and poetry. At age eleven, she sent four poems to a newspaper, and they were printed. She also submitted a poem to a magazine. But then the Great Depression happened and publications were no longer printing poems. Gwendolyn went to school and then to college. She got married and had children, writing poems all the while. She captured the hardworking neighborhood of Bronzeville in Chicago where she lived. Steadily, she started to get her poems published and then submitted a group of poems to a New York publisher. They not only accepted the poems, but asked for more to complete an entire book. She eventually had two books, but still wasn’t able to make enough money to get by. Her electricity had been shut off when she heard that her book had won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry!
Slade’s picture book biography of Brooks details a life spent with a love of words but also one that is impacted greatly by poverty. Her life is one filled with early promise as a child, but one that was also put on hold by the economy. Her story is inspiring, showing how a life of hard work and speaking the truth of a community can eventually be noticed.
The art in the book is done in acrylic. The pages are filled with pinks, greens and blues as backgrounds that float like clouds. Against this, realistic depictions of Brooks and her family glow.
A splendid biography of an important African-American poet. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman (9781681198507)
Explore the life of one of the greatest singers of all time in this picture book biography of Aretha Franklin. Aretha grew up in a family filled with music and talking. She was a shy little girl, but even from a young age had an incredible singing voice. Her parents left one another when she was a child, and she lived with her father. She adored her time with her mother until her mother died when Aretha was 10. She used music to express her feelings, moving to New York City at age 18. It was the turbulent 1960s where clubs and venues were still segregated for the most part. Aretha made sure to not ever be tricked out of being paid as well as paying attention to venues where everyone was allowed. She was popular but all of her albums flopped until she made some of her most iconic songs and became the Queen of Soul.
Told in a warm and welcoming tone of someone sharing the life story of a beloved family member, this picture book biography captures the way so many people feel about Aretha Franklin and her joyous impact in their lives through her music. The text is accessible and shares the hardships of Franklin’s life and career, displaying her resilience in the face of disappointment as well as her savviness about business and civil rights. The digital art in the book is full of bright and deep colors that pop on the white backgrounds.
A grand picture book biography for the Queen of Soul. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard, illustrated by Rachel Katstaller (9781525300561)
Enter the marvelous world of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas in France in the middle of the 20th century. Stein created an art gallery in her home after moving to Paris with her brother. They purchased from many incredible artists of the time, including Picasso. In fact, Picasso was so taken with Stein that he had her sit for a portrait which he then gave to her as a gift. Saturday evenings, they opened their home so that others could see the art. Stein was both a writer and a genius, working on capturing her world in words for both adults and children. Stein and Toklas purchased a dog they called Basket, that was featured in Stein’s work, including the “autobiography” she wrote about Alice.
Robillard captures the essence of the life that Stein and Toklas created together, one of acceptance and adoration for one another. Her author’s note speaks to the complexity of their life in World War II France as well as their relationships with those who conspired with the Germans, which likely allowed them to keep their collection of masterpieces safe during the invasion. These elements are not referred to in the body of the book, instead focusing on the art collection, the world they built for themselves, and Stein’s writing and ideas.
Fitting nicely with the clever writing, the illustrations are playful and jovial with a great quirkiness as well. The images depict Gertrude and Alice together, their garden, their home and Basket as well in a color palette that feels timely and modern.
A lovely picture book biography that celebrates an iconic lesbian couple in history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (9781452142975)
Emily Dickinson grew up in a small New England town. As a little girl, she explored the fields and gardens around her home, discovering new words and ways of thinking about the world around her. Her feelings were deeper than most people’s with higher joys and lower sadness. Her thoughts here also deeper, including her love for so much around her. She found sorrows and looked for solutions in school and church, but refused to put her faith in things she could not see. She had her own brand of hope, one that led her to her own truth too. That truth came to life in her poems, not shared with anyone, just with herself. They allowed her to express her feelings and the way she looked at the world, puzzle through things, and ask questions that could not be readily answered. Those same words now inspire so many readers to do the same, find their own voice, look at the world from their own lens: just as Emily did.
Berne writes her prose with a thoughtfulness that allows her to intersperse many of Dickinson’s own words in the text. Dickinson’s poems fly on the page, lifting it up in the way only she can. Berne then serves as her foundational story, offering clarity about Dickinson’s life and then pairing those with poems. It’s a delightful way to introduce young readers to poetry and to Emily Dickinson herself.
The illustrations have a lot of historically accurate elements like the Dickinson home and surroundings. Still, my favorite illustrations are the ones where Emily’s imagination soars along with the illustrations which become whimsical and wild.
A grand look at a great poet’s life and work. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Cezanne’s Parrot by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist (9780525515081)
Cezanne was a French painter who longed to be told that he’s a great artist, so he tried to train his parrot to say that to him. Cezanne’s focus on ordinary events and people as well as his unique style of thick paint and heavy lines did not speak to the professors at the famous Academie des Beaux-Arts where he longed to study. Monet advised Cezanne to head into the French countryside for inspiration. But Monet painted quickly and Cezanne painted very slowly, sometimes taking over 100 visits to a site before his painting was complete. He continued to submit his art for consideration by the Academie, but continued to be rebuffed. The Impressionists emerged as a group that broke the rules of art, but Cezanne didn’t fit in, even with them. He continued to paint the way that only he could, eventually becoming a huge success.
Cezanne’s continued disappointments in gaining attention for his art flavor this picture book biography with rejection and sorrow. They also give readers a chance to see someone who never gave up even as people mocked him. This incredible resilience is also captured in the humor of teaching his parrot to compliment him, something that finally happens in the picture book towards the end.
Helquist’s illustrations are saturated with color, rich and vibrant. He reproduces several of Cezanne’s masterpieces on the page while the majority of the illustrations are filled with images of Cezanne’s hard work, using speech bubbles and humor when appropriate.
A look at one of the greatest painters of all time and what it took to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (9781534441224)
This picture book biography offers a glimpse into the childhood of Mister Rogers along with a look at how he created his legendary program for children. Fred grew up a shy boy whose asthma kept him indoors. He found a way to express himself through music by playing the piano. In 1951, Fred saw children’s television and realized that he could perhaps use this new medium to explain to them how special they really are. By 1954, Fred had his first TV show on a local community-supported channel. It was done live and mainly improvised. In 1968, the first Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired with Fred Rogers as the host and his message of acceptance, community and compassion.
This bright and cheery look at Mister Rogers and his impact on children’s television lets readers see how a shy and quiet child transformed into a man speaking before Congress and creating a program that will be remembered by all who watched it. The illustrations are full of life with bright colors erupting from the television and inspiring young viewers. Several of Mister Rogers’ most notable episodes are also captured on the page.
Another winning Mister Roger’s picture book that is worth tuning in for. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.