Iris loves to pick up the treasures she discovers near the river and under rocks. Usually it’s bent forks and spoons, but Iris sees them as special. After all, there’s not much to do in their tiny town of Bugden and nothing special ever happens there. Then one day, the river dries up, exposing new treasures for Iris and her friend Sam to discover. The two follow the dry river bed and make the discovery of a lifetime. There is an entire town that is usually underwater! Sam is reluctant to explore the forgotten city, but Iris refuses to leave. When Sam get lost on his way back, he is saved by an old man who has ties to the forgotten town. Meanwhile, Iris is making discoveries and meeting an unusual girl who lives in the normally underwater city.
In this graphic novel, Pamment shows the amazing way that hidden cities can be discovered. He shares at the end of the book facts about real underwater towns. In his novel, he shares his excitement and wonder at these lost towns through Iris, a girl who is brave and resourceful, determined to see all of the treasures before her. Sam, on the other hand, is content in their small town, eager to see the new statue in the town square unveiled, and also a true friend to Iris, who often pushes him away. Their friendship is complex and marvelous to see in a graphic novel format.
The art in this graphic novel is full of wonder and connection. When Iris finds a strange object, it is echoed later in the town she discovers. The town is falling apart from being underwater. This is captured in small and big details in the illustrations, that show the beauty of the elements of the town and all that was lost when water covered it over.
Based in real drowned towns, this graphic novel is a treasure worth seeking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
I Am a Bird by Hope Lim, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (9781536208917)
Every morning a little girl flies like a bird on the back of her father’s bicycle. She sings like a bird too with a “Ca-Caw!” of delight. Along the way, they wave at the people they pass who smile and wave back. Then one morning, the little girl glimpses a person hurrying through the streets with a large bag. The woman doesn’t wave or smile at all. They see her the next day too, and the little girl doesn’t wave or smile at her this time. What could the woman be doing? Where is she headed in such a hurry day after day? The little girl becomes scared of the woman, since she acts so strangely. But then one day, they discover what the woman has been doing. She has been feeding the birds with a “Chee-chee-chee” quietly whispered to them. Now the little girl is a bird once more.
Lim delicately offers a tale about assumptions that we all make about those around us. Assumptions that can quickly grow to dislike, even though we don’t know the person at all. Told in the first person by the little girl, she explores the confusion and fear caused by a woman rushing past without smiling or waving. The reaction is believable for a small child and also speaks to how humans in general react to those who are different from us.
The art is done in merry colors in colored pencils and gouache. The little girl and her father are particularly bright on the page with their sunny yellow, bright blue and bright red colors. The neighborhood they live in is also part of the story with its seaside, graffiti and close buildings.
A picture book about community and connection. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
The first in the new Happy County series, this picture book invites plenty of exploration by readers. The bright colored and vibrant pages are filled with details for children to explore. The text in the book invites readers to look for specific things, but it’s also great fun to just explore this world on your own too. Some pages are filled with noises, others with a quest for a great spot to nap, still others with restaurants with signs to match. Turning the page may reveal an up-close look at a specific character or a wider view of the entire community.
Inspired by Richard Scarry, this updated version is brighter and funnier. It also offers a wider variety of activities to engage in. The text is funny, filled with puns, and has a merry tone that invites readers to really have fun. The illustrations are colorful and filled with marvelous details yet still have a simpler feel to them.
A great book for a trip, this one will keep children happily busy for some time. Worth exploring together too! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
From My Window by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff, translated by Beatriz C. Dias (9781782859772)
Visit a beautiful favela district in Brazil via this bright picture book. A favela is an area in Brazil that is not managed by the government but by the people who live there. Because of this, water and electricity can be difficult to access. From their high vantage point of a window, the narrator can see throughout their favela. They see roofs and windows and people. Sometimes the people are using water to get cooler. At night the lights dim that fireflies appear on the paths. Grey days are brightened with occasional rainbows. Sometimes the air is full of music and poetry, other times the sounds of sadness come. Rain falls, children head to school, and the favela bustles with activity.
Originally published in Brazil, Junior writes of his own home in a favela in this picture book. He plays with themes of dreams and treasure, but also keeps the book firmly grounded in reality. His clear vision of both joy and sadness in the crowded and busy neighborhood keeps the book from being too light, grounding it in the occasional gray day and leaking roofs.
Starkoff’s illustrations are done in acrylic using tropical colors of bright yellows, pinks, greens and blues. The illustrations show so many different types of people, all enjoying the neighborhood together. The images that pull back and show the full favela are incredibly detailed and worth looking at closely.
A dynamic look at a unique type of Brazilian community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Barefoot Books.
A boy and his family live along the Tapajos River, one of the biggest rivers in the Amazon rainforest. He and his sister take a boat to get to school. He loves to see the alligators along the way, while she prefers the porpoises. Under the water, lurk some even larger animals just waiting for someone to fall in the water. At school, the rain suddenly begins, starting the winter season that is filled with torrential rainfall and flooding. Everyone rushes home to pack up and head away from the flooding. They take everything but the houses themselves. But the brother and sister have left their tortoise behind accidentally. At night, they sneak out to rescue her. They get back to their flooded village and discover the turtle just about to be devoured by a giant anaconda!
Originally published in Brazil, this picture book tells the story of a way of life that is unique to the Amazon rainforest. The author combines the story of the flooding village and the construction of a new place in the rainforest with a tale of bravery when the children rescue their pet. This also gives readers an opportunity to see the quiet beauty of the flooded village, empty of anyone. The setting itself is a major character, including the many animals, the weather and the river herself. It’s a book that carries readers to a place they never knew existed.
The illustrations are done in a mix of woodcut techniques, drawing and collage that is then used digitally. They have a great texture to them and depth thanks to the woodcuts that offer that organic feel to the images. The rain itself falls white against the golden background of the sky and the river. The book often takes a step back from the immediate action, allowing the riverscape to fill the pages in a way that is very impactful.
Journey to another part of the world in this look at the Amazon rainforest and some of the people who call it home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Large picture-book-sized pages made of board book stock invite even the youngest of children to explore Bustletown. In these busy pages, the life of an entire village plays out. The wordless format lets each reader make up their own stories about the people in town. Some of the story arcs include an escaped parrot, a lost key and wallet, a cat on a jaunt around town, buying a Christmas tree, and heading to ice skate with a friend. It’s a delightful mix of Where’s Waldo chaos with real stories about a diverse little town.
A German import, readers will enjoy the distinct European feel of the setting in the book. Care was taken to be inclusive with the members of the town, including people of different skin colors, faiths and abilities. The busyness of the pages is at just the right level, making it a pleasure to find the character you are searching for, rather than a frustration.
Bright and friendly, this wordless picture book is great fun to explore. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Daisy loves to ride with her father on his motorcycle. After he finishes his work in construction, he always has time for an evening ride with her. They ride like a comet on the hot asphalt, zigzagging through the streets. Together they rumble through their Southern California town and visit all of the sites that Daisy loves. There is Joy’s Market where they see their librarian shopping. Murals on the walls tell the story of their history as Mexican-Americans. They plan to stop for a sweet treat, but the store has closed. They pass her grandparent’s home with happy waves and a plan to visit tomorrow. Their ride ends with a visit to her father’s workplace and then a curving race around Grand Boulevard. They return home to find that the owner of the closed shop has is running a food cart instead.
Quintero’s text is lush and beautiful. It’s remarkable for a picture book to use language the way that she does, yet she manages it without leaving small children behind. It is particularly evident in the places where Daisy’s imagination soars. As Daisy pictures them as a comet flying, Quintero’s prose flies alongside her imagination lifting it with colors, and sentences like “We become a spectacular celestial thing soaring on asphalt.” What more could a reader want?
The illustrations are a true celebration of the community Daisy and her Papi right through. The murals are shown in bright colors, the city itself bathed in the heat and sunshine of a summer day. Perspectives are done playfully at times with chasing dogs and narrow streets.
A summer treat of a book, this one is worth the ride. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Astrid loves living in her tiny village in the mountains. The only problem is that no other children live nearby. She does have a best friend, Gunnvald, a neighbor in his seventies who loves to play the fiddle and can be rather grumpy. Astrid spends her time playing outside, building prototype sleds with Gunnvald, and bothering the owner of the wellness retreat nearby. When some children do come to the retreat (where children are forbidden) Astrid becomes friends with them despite having a fight first. Astrid’s world is idyllic, but something is about to change. When Gunnvald has an accident and has to have surgery, the secret he has been keeping from Astrid is revealed. Could it be that nothing will ever go back to normal again?
This Norwegian book has been translated into languages and sold around the world. It’s wonderful to see it on American shelves. Parr writes with a delightful sense of merriment throughout her book. She speaks to the importance of children having freedom and an ability to make choices in their life (even if one of those choices can’t be missing school all the time). She also demonstrates what a life lived outdoors looks like and the importance of loving a place and identifying with it.
The book uses the story of Heidi as a central plot point, which is very interesting since I had been thinking of how much this tale was like Heidi from the start. It is partly the setting itself of a mountaintop with an older man who is grumpy yet warm. But another large component is the character at the heart of both stories. Astrid, like Heidi, is fiercely independent and loves with all her being.
Richly told, this book is a delightful wintry read that feels like a long-lost classic. Get it into the hands of fans of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Hey, Wall by Susan Verde, illustrated by John Parra (9781481453134)
This picture book tells the story of a large, blank wall and a boy who sees the possibilities in it. The wall is cold and empty, ignored. People walk past, skateboard by. In the winter, dirty snow is shoveled up against it. Though flowers poke up through the sidewalk, they don’t visit the wall. Then the boy decides to change things. He and his friends come together to create a plan for the wall that with a lot of creativity and hard work becomes a new mural that reflects all of the action in the community around it.
Verde uses the feeling of free verse and spoken word here. It works particularly well with the urban setting. In the story she shows the importance of art, both street art like community murals and art that comes from children and communities. In today’s world, there can’t be a picture book simply about a wall. This book shows that walls can be more than dividers, instead bringing a community together.
Parra’s illustrations have a great organic quality to them, filled with textures. He shows an urban community full of diversity and gatherings together. There is a folk art aspect to his work that translates beautifully into the mural the children create.
A picture book about walls that bring us closer to one another and the power of art to create community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.