Hans Christian Andersen by Heinz Janisch

Hans Christian Andersen: The Journey of His Life by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Maja Kastelic (9780735843882)

A little girl takes a coach ride with Hans Christian Andersen. As they head to Copenhagen, the author answers her questions and then tells her a fairy tale. It’s the story of a boy who learned to fly, the story of his own life. Born on a Danish island, Hans’ father was a cobbler who mended shoes. In the evening though, he would read to Hans from a big book of fairy tales. He also built Hans a puppet theater and performed shows for his son. Then Hans’ father was sent to war and returned tired and sick. He died when Hans was eleven. As Hans grew up, he was inspired to try to join the theater as an actor but his voice broke at age fifteen and he had to find a different way. Hans truly loved writing and was sent to school tuition free. Now Hans was on his way, a boy who grew up to be famous by sharing parts of himself in his fairy tales.

First published in Switzerland, this translated version is a rich look at a famous author who has captivated children for generations. Framing his life with questions from a small child is a clever device to allow the character to answer questions about his life and his stories. Allowing Andersen to tell his own life story as a fairy tale is also a believable format that invites readers to really get immersed in the life of this amazing figure in literature.

The illustrations by Kastelic are dreamy watercolors that move from realistic colors on the carriage ride to sepia tones as Andersen tells his personal story. They really burst from the page though when Andersen talks of his fairy tales, becoming rich and vibrant, the colors fantastical and wild. These changes beautifully show just as the story does, the power of story.

A superb picture book biography. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by NorthSouth.

Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect Aretha Franklin The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford

Respect: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9781534452282)

Told in a similar format to her signature song R-E-S-P-E-C-T, each double-page spread explores another important word in Franklin’s life. The book begins with her family’s move to Detroit and Aretha being raised in the middle of gospel and church. She is incredibly gifted musically, cutting her first gospel record at age 14. She becomes an R&B superstar, rising to the tops of the charts. She supports the civil rights movement with her voice, offering free concerts. She is there to sing President Obama into office. The book ends with plenty of RESPECT for all she has accomplished.

Weatherford’s clever use of single words, spelled out like the song, really forms a strong structure for this picture book. She keeps the book tightly focused and her words to a minimum, allowing the pace of Franklin’s own life and fame to propel the book forward.

The illustrations are gorgeous, the paintings singing with pinks and golds. Morrison uses interesting perspectives in his images, allowing Aretha to be the center of each, showing her changing style and the beauty of her powerful voice.

A fitting tribute for a queen. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Dark Was the Night by Gary Golio

Dark Was the Night by Gary Golio

Dark Was the Night by Gary Golio, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (9781524738884)

This nonfiction picture book is about the life and music career of Blind Willie Johnson. The book begins with the fact that Willie Johnson’s music was sent into space on Voyager I in 1977. The year then turns to Johnson’s birth in 1897. Johnson was a musician from a young age when he could still see, losing his sight around age eight. Music continued for him in church choir and changing gospel songs to the blues. Grown up, Johnson traveled Texas by train, performing on the street corner and in churches. Eventually, a man from a record label heard him and his first record sold thousands of copies. Time passed and one of those songs launched into the darkness of space.

Golio keeps his text tight and brief, giving young readers plenty of opportunity to witness the remarkable gift of music that took a man from being a blind child to making a record that made history. Written in the second person speaking directly to Johnson, the book has the feel of a gift laid before him as well as being a reminder to young people of what hard work and skill can create in your life.

Lewis’ illustrations are remarkable. Done in watercolor they are filled with light, yellows glowing, stars shining, and hope emerging on each page. There are several great images of Johnson in the book, playing is guitar in each.

Make sure to listen to “Dark Was the Night” while reading this with children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Cubs in the Tub by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing (9780823443185)

Fred and Helen wanted a baby and planned for one, but never got one. So when Fred, a zookeeper, brought home a tiny lion cub, Helen’s supplies came in very handy. She had bottles to let him slurp, blankets to wrap him warm, supplies to wash him, and a crib for him to sleep in. But when the lion was two months old, he got sent to a zoo in another city. Helen packed up the baby items and spent lonely days with no baby to care for until the three tiger cubs arrived. With feedings every three hours, the cubs grew quickly and soon were causing mischief. Finally, they returned to the zoo at three months old, but this time Helen would not be left behind. Soon Helen found herself an empty storehouse that she turned into a nursery for baby animals, becoming the first woman zookeeper!

Fleming tells a wistful and factual story here, allowing the more remarkable elements to be wondered at by readers. It is amazing that Helen was not only willing to take in these little creatures but also very skilled at it. Many of us can care for human children, but ones with sharp teeth and claws would be daunting. Fleming simply appreciates the dedication, skill and tenacity of this woman, shining a spotlight on someone who was inventing it all as she went along.

Downing’s illustrations are soaked in the time period of the 1940’s by showing cars, fashion and home decor. The book wisely uses panels to show the different moments of caring for the animals, distress at their leaving, and planning to create something new. The panels break up the text for young readers and also give a jaunty comic vibe.

An engaging look at a remarkable woman with a knack for caring for little wild creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Holiday House.

 

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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

Hello, Neighbor The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

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 by Amy Alznauer

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer

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

Exquisite The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade

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

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown

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.