Review: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena (9780525553410)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Kokila.

Review: Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (9781536200171)

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.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Hey, Wall by Susan Verde

Hey, Wall by Susan Verde

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.

Reviewed from library copy.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (9780062398512)

Billie lives in a small town where each year a worthy woman wins the “Corn Dolly.” Billie knows she will never be chosen to compete for it, since she is not the type of girl or woman who gets picked. She is the preacher’s daughter, but she’s also part of the group of teens, the Hexagon, that started her father’s church on fire. Billie loves her friends, taking comfort in their ease with one another. Still, when her best friend Janie Lee confesses that she has a crush on Woods, Billie is devastated. Billie isn’t quite sure what she wants though, could it be that she loves Woods too? Or maybe Janie Lee? As Billie wrestles with her sexuality in a small town, she discovers unexpected allies, new friends, and the power of being yourself.

As someone who grew up outside of a small town, Stevens captures small town life beautifully, from the comfort of knowing everyone to the suffocating nature of everyone knowing you. The micro-world of the small town is so well drawn, demonstrating why one would never leave at the same time showing why some run as soon as they can. This tension plays throughout the book, offering a scaffold for Billie’s questioning of her sexuality that is supportive and evocative.

Billie is exactly the heroine we need right now. She is strong beyond belief, a clear anchor for those in her life. Still, she wrestles with so much, from what it means to be a girl and be feminine to what it means to be in love with a person but not want to “be” with them. There is nothing easy about Billie, she is complex and wondrous. She’s an artist, an inadvertent activist, a hard worker, one-of-the-guys and clearly unaware of her own appeal and beauty. She’s incandescent on the page, a fire to be warmed by.

Complicated and incredibly poignant, this novel for teens rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

Review: Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (InfoSoup)

A picture book all about skin and how important it is to our bodies, this book also celebrates the different colors of skin we all come in. The book begins with the joy of baby skin in all of its sweet colors of cocoa, cinnamon, honey and ginger. It then talks about how skin forms a protective barrier for you, forming scabs when you hurt yourself and growing along with you. The way skin reacts to sun and to cold is also talked about and then the book talks again about how your skin is unique and so is everyone else’s too.

Written in rhyming couplets, this picture book has a jolly galloping feel to it with they rhymes propelling the text along. The book is a wonderful mix of scientific information about skin that is appropriate for very small children and praise for the beautiful variety of skin colors that you see. This is a wonderful book to start discussing diversity with very small children. The urban setting is a delight with people of differing abilities, Muslim families, and children and adults of all races. The book does focus on one family in particular where one of the parents could be any gender, making this book all the more welcoming.

The illustrations by Tobia go a long way to making this book inclusive and diverse. From henna on hands to families of mixed races, these illustrations are celebratory of the vast diversity we have. At the same time, there is a universal nature to all of them, with all of the families loving their children, adoring their infants, and spending the day outside together as a community.

A fresh and lovely look at diversity for the smallest of children, this book will serve as both a mirror and a window for all. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (InfoSoup)

Finn and Sean had been abandoned by their mother years ago, leaving Sean taking care of Finn. Finn is called Moonface and Sidetrack by people in Bone Gap because he never makes eye contact and is often day dreaming. But things changed for the brothers when Roza appeared. Beautiful Roza lived with them, cooked them Polish food, and fell in love with one brother. Then Roza disappeared. Finn witnessed her being abducted but could not give a full description of the man who took her. The people of Bone Gap had always assumed that Roza would leave, people leave Bone Gap and never return. Now Finn has fallen for a girl who keeps bees and who is known in town as a homely girl, but Finn just sees beauty when he looks at Petey. Finn will need to figure out things about his family, himself and the unique way he sees the world before he can set out to rescue Roza and everyone he loves.

Ruby has created a unique and amazing read. Her world shifts under your feet, seemingly something solid at first and then changing on you, revealing itself and exposing both wonder and horror in the same breath. It is a challenging read, one that puts you on a journey of discovery about all of the characters and about the town itself too. As the book peels open and you see deeper inside, it will surprise you with what it shows. And you will question whether this book is a new genre, one that is not clearly fantasy or horror or reality fiction, though it may read as more real than most of that. it’s a genre bender, one that needs no classification to be great.

The characters in this book are complex and detailed. Each one, even the secondary and tertiary characters have backgrounds and histories. They have all witnessed things and reacted to their pasts in ways that turned them into who they are today. Ruby reveals many of these details while others are untold but also richly displayed. The main characters of Finn, Roza and Petey all have great details and histories. They are thoughtfully shown, moments captured in crystalline details that shimmer and sparkle.

A stunningly beautiful and amazing teen novel, this unique book will impress and delight readers who make the journey to Bone Gap. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

one plastic bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.

This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.

The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.

Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

last stop on market street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.

De la Pena is best known for his young adult books.  This is the second picture book he has written.  One would never know that this is not his specialty.  His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.

Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage.  They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.

A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

moonpenny island

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

The author of What Happened on Fox Street returns with a beautiful story set on a little island in a large lake.  Flor loves her island home, loves being able to ride her bicycle everywhere, loves that her best friend is the only other person in her grade at school, and loves that she knows all of the people who live there year round.  But things start to change that Flor has no way to control.  Her best friend is sent off the island to attend a different school, leaving Flor the only person in sixth grade.  Flor’s mother leaves to take care of her sick grandmother, and with her parents always fighting, maybe she won’t be back.  Even her very responsible older sister is hiding something from Flor.  Flor has to figure out how to live in this new island landscape where everything is changing around her.  But in change there is also opportunity, perhaps a new friend (or two) and also seeing things for what they actually are. 

Springstubb writes a love letter to her island setting.  She imbues each bike ride of Flor’s with a beauty and a celebration of this small island and its nature.  Her writing sparkles like sun on the water as she picks unique metaphors to show both her characters emotions and the setting.  Here is one of my favorite examples:  “Her heart’s a circus, with trapezes and tightropes and people shooting out of cannons but no nets – someone forgot the nets.”  Springstubb also shows emotions rather than telling about them.  Flor’s emotions come out in the way she digs her toes in sand, how she pedals her bicycle and through what she notices in the island itself. 

Flor is a great young protagonist.  She reads like an eleven year old, desperate to hold her family and friends together.  She has a youthful and frenzied love of her island, something that readers can see may change in the future but it is her connection to this place that makes this book work so beautifully.  She is fiercely protective of her siblings, throwing herself in to defend and protect them even as she proves that she has no understanding of teen love, something refreshing in a young protagonist.

Strong written, this book is beautiful, deep and rich just like its island setting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.