So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka (9781547600793)
A very positive picture book about first-day jitters when starting school. Bear is “so big,” a refrain that carries through the entire book. He is big enough to get himself dressed. He is so big that he can make his own breakfast too. He packs his own bag, ties his shoes, and heads out to the bus stop. But when the bus gets there, it is so big! The kids around him are big too. So is the large school. Bear is worried and sits down on the steps. There he notices a smaller child hesitating to go in too. The two join hands and head into the big school together where they discover that it’s not too big after all.
Wohnoutka’s story is told in the simplest of words by repeating “so big” and other phrases multiple times. It’s a story about confidence that starts strong, is lost along the way and rediscovered too. The bravery that it takes to try something completely new and then the resilience that is necessary to keep moving forward even when scared is shown deftly in this simple story.
The art is bright and centers entirely on Bear and the other children. Perspective is used very effectively to show how large the bus, the children and the school appear to a small child. Other times when he is more confident, Bear takes up space on the page and the perspective shifts to allow that.
Great for first day jitters, this book is simple and effective. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534416642)
Truman is a small urban turtle. He’s about the size of a donut and lives with Sarah high above the busy streets filled with taxis and buses. He is very happy spending quiet time with Sarah. But then one day, Sarah seems different. She is wearing a bow in her hair, a new sweater and has a big backpack. She even gives him some extra green beans as a treat. Before Sarah leaves, she touches Truman and tells him to be brave. And down on the street, Sarah boards a bus for the first time! Truman tries to wait for Sarah to return, but she is gone much longer than she ever has been before. So Truman finds a way out of his aquarium and makes a long journey towards the apartment door. He is being brave and will find Sarah!
Reidy tells a first day of school story from the point of view of a pet left behind by a child. It’s a wonderful answer to what pets do when children leave for school and will also speak to younger siblings being left behind at home when their older siblings head to school. The emotions of Truman are clearly conveyed and his worry is tangible even though readers will know exactly what is actually happening.
Cummins’ illustrations play with perspective nicely as Truman’s point of view is shared as well as views of the busy city street below the apartment. Big and bold, the illustrations show Truman’s limited world grow bigger and bigger as he explores the apartment landscape alone.
A look at bravery and the deep love of a pet, even a small, green one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani (9781250295088)
A young girl heads out into her day telling herself that today she will be fierce! She dons her clothes as her armor and bravely heads outside into the day. She is undaunted as a pack of dogs out on a walk bound towards her, charming them with bubbles she blows and imagining them as dragons. She waits for the bus with bigger kids, giants that she dares to be near. She heads to the library to learn and explore even more, thinking of the school librarian as the “Guardian of Wisdom.” She stands up to bullies in the cafeteria and makes a new friend. She talks in class even when she feels shy. Now she just has to be fierce again tomorrow!
Written in strong declarative sentences, this picture book is filled with energy and a sense of taking action. The unnamed protagonist of the book is a little girl of color who takes large and small risks throughout her day, including just getting on the school bus. Throughout her day, readers will see her getting all the more strong and fierce, meeting bigger challenges. The illustrations are vibrant and bright with the girl’s rainbow top glowing on every page. The other children at school represent a broad look at diversity too.
This strong picture book offers encouragement for children to be brave and to be themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange (9781338353853)
Released April 30, 2019.
Pet lives with her family in a lighthouse on the southeast coast of England just as World War II is coming to England’s shores. The daughter of a German immigrant and a lighthouse keeper, Pet loves the wildness of the coast, the way they can see long distances from the pinnacle of the lighthouse, and the warmth of their family. But as the war progresses, things change. Mutti is taken to an internment camp for being German and in the process is accused of espionage and sending messages to the Germans. Pet knows that her kind and gentle mother hasn’t done it, and sets off to find out what actually happens. There is the strange man who lives in a shack nearby or it could even be Pet’s older sister, who is always disappearing and doesn’t seem to be actually working on her boat the way she claims. As the war gets closer, Pet must work to untangle who is an enemy in their small town and who she can trust as her family crumbles around her.
I was entranced with the writing of Strange’s first novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, and this one has the same strong and stirring writing laced with touches of magic and wonder. In both of her books, Strange makes young women the heroines of their own stories even as they struggle to figure out what is going on around them. The setting here is almost another character in the book, depicted with glowing terms and a love of the sea. The perspective of the lighthouse is used throughout the novel and aspects of the structure help our young heroine discover the truth, even when it is hard to hear.
Pet is a unique heroine. She is not particularly brave since she tends to freeze at signs of trouble and be unable to move even when in physical danger. That continues to be true throughout the book. Yet at the same time, Pet also shows what bravery truly is and works with desperation and determination to discover the truth.
Another brilliant read from a gifted author, this one offers an extraordinary perspective on World War II. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett (9781926886541)
When a little girl wanders too far from her mother while they are picking berries, she finds herself lost in the woods. Unable to figure out how to return home, she starts to panic. Suddenly, a large gray wolf appears and using his nose, figures how where she comes from. But night is falling, so the wolf asks the girl a series of questions that demonstrate how much she really knows. He encourages her to take a deep breath, close her eyes, and then look. When the girl does this, she realizes that she can see berries that are safe to eat and water that is safe to drink. She eats and drinks, then the wolf encourages her to breathe deeply again. Now she recognizes the stand of trees nearby and finds her way back to her mother who explains that she has heard of wolves that help lost children. The little girl later leaves a gift of thanks for the wolf’s aid.
This book is a complete re-imagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story into one with a First Nation spin. Vermette is a Metis writer from Treaty One territory in Winnipeg. She has entirely turned Little Red Riding Hood into a story of the strength of a little girl who only needs help to figure out that she had the ability all along. The quiet and encouraging wolf is such a shift from European stories, energizing the entire picture book with his presence.
Flett’s illustrations keep the little girl in red, clearly tying this new story to its origins. The wolf is almost as large as the girl, making his threatening presence strong when he first appears but also offering a real sense of strength as he is better understood as the tale unfolds. The art is filled with strong shapes and rich colors.
An entirely new telling of Little Red Riding Hood, this is one to share when learning about independence and mindfulness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast by Sophie Gilmore (9781771473446)
Little Doctor takes care of crocodiles. She offers kindness and gentleness while she marvels at their big jaws and muscular tails. They share their stories with her as she treats their ailments and heals them. Still, when Big Mean, the largest crocodile of all, comes to her clinic, Little Doctor isn’t sure that she will be able to help. Big Mean won’t let her close enough to figure out what is wrong. Little Doctor won’t give up though and manages to get herself in quite a dangerous spot as she falls into Big Mean’s open jaws. But what she finds there teaches her that Big Mean isn’t that mean after all.
Gilmore’s picture book creates a fascinating dynamic between human and beast. The human is the smaller and weaker one here, giving help to the huge green creatures. I also appreciate that the doctor is a girl, bravely working with animals who have sharp teeth and certainly aren’t cuddly in any way. Her bravery and kindness form the heart of the story as does the natural building of trust between her and Big Mean. Readers will think that Little Doctor has made a huge mistake, but in the end, her knowledge and deep trust shines through.
Gilmore’s art is filled with small details, particularly when showing Little Doctor’s clinic. From the eggs in display stands to the series of different sized and shaped windows, this is a special space. Gilmore fills the rooms with crocodiles, huge swaths of green scales that are daunting. The images very successfully support the story.
A grand look at trust, kindness and care filled with crocodiles and one brave young doctor. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wings by Cheryl B. Klein, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (9781534405103)
This super-simple picture book soars as a baby bird leaves the nest for the first time. Told only in rhyming single words, the story is about wings, flings, stings, dings and eventually sings, rings and zings! A baby bird tentatively heads to the edge of the nest and then flings themselves off. They land in a puddle on the ground. Drying off and checking for damage, they discover a worm on the ground. That inspires them to try to head back up to the nest to deliver the food to their siblings. But can they actually fly?
The simplicity of the book belies the skill that it took to create an actual story arc with so few words. The book works well with the bulk of the tale told in the illustrations by a master artist. DePaola has created bright and cheery artwork to accompany the story. Filled with pinks, blues and yellows, the vibrant colors bring a lot of life to the book.
Use this one when teaching about rhymes. It is just right for toddler audiences. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Saturday Is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum (9780763691172)
A little girl wakes up with a stomach ache on Saturday, worried about her swimming lesson. When they get to the pool, it is loud and cold and wet. She doesn’t enter the pool at all, only getting wet when she takes a shower afterwards. The next week, she has a stomach ache again. This time, her instructor asks her to try getting in the pool and gently encourages her to try some movements in the water. The following week, she doesn’t have a stomach ache at all! She tries bobbing her head and even floating on her back, though she’d like her instructor nearby at first. This picture book looks positively at giving children time to adjust to new experiences and yet to continue encouraging them to try new things.
Yum captures the feelings of a child learning to swim. It is a frightening experience at first, filled with echoing noise, dampness and others enjoying it far more. All of the adults in the little girl’s life allow her time to be brave and don’t push in a negative way. The book is told her voice, so she demonstrates on her own how her viewpoint changes over time and the experience becomes positive and source of pride for her.
Yum’s illustrations are expressive and center on the little girl in each image. She uses watercolors very successfully to capture the flow of the water in the pool and its blue depths. Against that softer texture, the characters pop in bright colors as they swim, or don’t swim yet.
A winning book that shows how bravery sometimes takes time. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)
Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.
Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.
Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.
A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.