The Only Child by Guojing (InfoSoup)
Based on the author’s childhood growing up in China, this is the haunting story of a child left alone at home who decides to take the bus to her grandmother’s house. But when she gets off the bus, she discovers that she is alone in a woods. She sees a stag in the woods and follows him until they reach a body of water. When the little girl slips into the deep water, the stag offers one of his antlers to rescue her and the two travel on together. Out further in the water, there is a light in the clouds and the clouds form stairs for them to climb. They enter a cloud world, filled with other creatures. Although the little girl is having fun, she does miss her family who are frantically searching for her back on earth. But how is she going to ever get back to them from high above in the clouds?
The author’s note that begins this book is crucial to understanding the story. A generation of single children in China led to them living profoundly lonely lives, sometimes left alone at home for the day. That loneliness seeps through every page here, even the joyous ones ache with it. This mash up of a wordless picture book and a graphic novel is exceedingly successful, offering a glimpse into a magical world of animals and clouds that show this small child the love and attention she is seeking at home. This story is hauntingly told with a magnificent heart that shines on each page.
The artwork here is soft and subtle, exuding a warmth even in the falling snow. The pencil drawings are detailed and lush. Guojing plays with light and dark, hope and loneliness throughout the book. The child is central in the book, shining on the page alongside her animal companions. The world of clouds is beautifully textural and playful, hugging the child and supporting her. This art is exceptional and communicates far more than words could.
A ravishingly gorgeous book, this graphic novel will be adored by a wide range of ages. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay
This is the story of a boy who could weave cloth out of clouds. The color of the thread would change throughout the day, as the clouds’ colors shifted with the changing light. There was gold in the morning, white in the afternoon, and crimson in the evening. The boy had learned from his mother to only use as much as he needed, nothing more. But when the boy’s amazing scarf caught the eye of the king as he rode through town, the boy was ordered to create a scarf for the king. The king was pleased with the scarf and immediately ordered the boy to create a cloak and also dresses for the Queen and the Princess. The boy spun and spun, pulling the clouds from the sky until there were no clouds left at all. Then the rain stopped falling and a terrible drought hit the country. It will take two children to figure out how to fix it.
Catchpool has written a very enjoyable tale with a strong environmental heart. The story is structured as a traditional folktale, rather than a modern one. It has lines that repeat, a medieval setting, and the play of rich and powerful against poor subjects. The book reads aloud well, thanks not only to the structure, but also to the writing being clear yet filled with lovely little details such as the colors of the thread from the clouds.
Jay’s illustrations are done in her signature crackle glazed style. That lends a sense of history and time to the entire work. Her pictures are filled with light and color. Keep an eye out for the smiling hills that dot the countryside, a jaunty little touch.
A timely picture book about conservation, the environment and using just what you need and no more, this picture book would make a great addition to Earth Day or green programming. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.
Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld
Cloudette is the smallest of clouds. Usually it was just fine to be the littlest. She was called by cute nicknames, she had little friends, she was great at hiding, and she even slept in a special spot on the moon. But sometimes, she felt left out because she was so small. She couldn’t do the important work that the big clouds did, like storm fronts and rainbows. She wanted to do something big herself, but all of her big ideas didn’t work out. One day, she was blown by a storm to a new area where she had never been before. There she found a lone frog sitting in a dried up pond. Cloudette knew she could help, but only if she tried very, very hard. By helping in one place, she realized that there was a lot one small cloud could do in the world.
Lichtenheld’s text is a pleasure to read aloud. He has included all sorts of aside comments from the clouds, Cloudette herself, and animals too. They give the book more flavor and a stronger tone. The small making a large impact and doing something big is an idea that is featured in a lot of children’s books. Children relate to being the smallest, being envious of what bigger people can do, and feeling powerless themselves. Cloudette is certain to speak directly to the fact that small contributions can add up to something big.
The artwork here is bright, simple and entertaining. While some pages have a paneled look, many of them are single or double-page spreads. Lichtenheld nicely contrasts background colors to create a book that is colorful and that will work well with a group.
Cloudette will have you cheering for her and is sure to easily create small fans. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
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