Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock

Cover image for Mr. Brown’s Bad Day

Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock, illustrated by Alison Friend (9781536214369)

Mr. Brown has a very important business job and carries a very important briefcase. He was always busy going to meetings and signing papers. But no matter how busy he is, he always makes time every day to go to the park for lunch with his important briefcase. On this day though, Mr. Brown didn’t notice a little baby grabbing his briefcase. Mr. Brown soon spots his briefcase heading away in a stroller. But before he can reach it, it gets hooked onto an ice cream cart. From the cart, it is soon snagged by a rider on the Ferris wheel. By the time Mr. Brown got through the line and onto the ride, the briefcase was carried onto a bus. Mr. Brown had lost his hat, his jacket and was quite the mess, but he borrowed a tricycle and headed after the bus. After all, his briefcase held very important things. Mr. Brown never caught the bus until it was already stopped at the school. He headed home with his briefcase held close. Once at home, he opened the briefcase to make sure all of his important items were still there. They were! But you may be surprised by what was in the briefcase.

Peacock takes a child’s view of business work in this picture book that is far more about the chase and the briefcase than Mr. Brown’s important work day. The wild chase around a delightful park and then through town is great fun with plenty of anticipation as the Ferris wheel turns or the bus chugs away. Peacock adds tension in the book, some of which is a marvelous surprise when the important contents of the briefcase are revealed.

The illustrations are warm and dynamic. The park is a delightful green, inviting and filled with all sorts of animals enjoying their day outside. There is a sense of community throughout the book, whether it is spending time together in a park or offering a tricycle to a grownup.

A busy book full of friendly animals and one very important briefcase. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen

Cover image of Little Wise Wolf

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen, illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma, translated by Laura Watkinson

Little Wolf loves reading lots of books. It’s how he knows so much about the world. All of his neighbors called him Little Wise Wolf and sought him out to answer their difficult questions. But Little Wolf didn’t want to interrupt his reading and kept his door closed. When the king’s crow comes to ask him to help the king, who is ill, Little Wolf refuses at first. After being convinced that he can’t refuse, Little Wolf sets off across the countryside. Along the way, it’s clear that the wolf needs help, but the other animals are busy doing their own things. When he finds himself wet, lost and missing a boot in the dark forest, Little Wolf discovers a camp already set up where he could eat and sleep warmly by a fire. It was all of the animals who had decided to help him after all. Little Wolf continued on his way to the king, asking for help as he needed it along the way. When he had saved the king and returned home, he made sure that he was never too busy to help a neighbor again.

This picture book celebrates knowledge and community. While learning from books is seen throughout the story as very valuable, it doesn’t really make its full impact until it is used to help someone else. Originally published in the Netherlands, this picture book has a delightful European feel. The text is straight forward but with space for interpretation and some dreaming too. The pace of the book is very similar, full of adventure but also time for meandering a bit.

The illustrations are marvelously gauzy, showing a black wolf with a white face and bright red boots on his journey. There are leafy patterns, rounded hills, puddling rain, and much more. The pages have a luminous quality as well as offering a haunting landscape.

A journey worth taking. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros (9780358329602)

One day, a strange animal arrived with a big suitcase. He was frightened and dusty. The other animals who lived there, came out and started asking him what was in his big suitcase. He answered that there is a teacup inside, along with a table and chair. In fact, he went on to tell them that his entire home is in the suitcase, a wooden cabin with the hillside it sat on. Then the animal curled up and went to sleep. The others knew there was only one way to find out if the animal was telling the truth. They had to open the suitcase! But what was inside surprised them all and gave them a way to say they were sorry for breaking into his belongings.

This picture book shows the importance of a few belongings from home for refugees. Through the eyes of the strange teal animal, young readers will feel outraged that the others broke into his suitcase but also will be amazed at what they go on to do next. One wrong can be undone as long as care and empathy is given in its place. The book does not lecture at all, allowing the lessons learned to be organically presented in the story.

The art is simple and clear, filled with animals of different colors. The animals pop on the clean white page while sepia tones are used to look back at the new animal’s homeland. They are echoed in the photograph that they discover too. The text contains a lot of dialogue done in colors that match each of the animals, so no speech bubbles are needed.

A gentle and empathetic look at welcoming someone to your community and honoring where they have come from. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (9781419746550)

Every Wednesday, a group of people come together in a little kitchen to cook together. They put on aprons, roll up their sleeves, heat up the oven. Then they start to look for ingredients, things they have grown or kept or purchased. Day-old bread from the bakery is given a little time in the oven and comes out new. Apples with bruises are still good and make an amazing apple crumble. Beans and vegetables mix and stew into a chili. Soon the dining room is filling up and time is running out. The food hits the table and is served to those waiting in line, neighbors in need. Conversations happen around the room, second helpings are offered and everyone leaves warm and full. Then it’s clean up time!

Based on her own work in a community kitchen, where there is sometimes plenty of ingredients and other times just enough to scrape into a meal. This picture book shows the hard work and dedication of a group of volunteers working to feed their neighbors with food and with kindness. The pace is brisk and busy, each person working on their own dish that comes together as a harmonious meal at the end. There is no chef bossing people around, but instead a shared effort that is so uplifting.

Tamaki’s art fills the pages with a diverse group of neighbors who work together. Young readers will enjoy watching a little boy who comes along with his mother to help. The busy kitchen moves across the pages with energy. Beans, bread, apples and more stream across the pages, sometimes lifting the workers right off their feet. The end pages contain visual recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble.

Positive and kind, this is a community kitchen that everyone will want to join. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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

 

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (9781534405868)

When a storm blows in, the farm animals and wildlife take shelter together in the barn. There are pigs, goats, horses, cows, sheep, geese, cats, dogs, chickens, raccoons, turtles, turkeys, squirrels, mice and more! But outside in the storm, a fox family is caught in the rain after their home is flooded. The adult fox heads to the barn, carefully looking inside. She is sent away, the other animals saying that the barn is too full to take her in. But then one little yellow duckling steps out into the darkness and a connection is made. Soon all of the animals are inside drying off together. Other wild animals come later and more room is found, room for all.

Vaught writes here in simple paired rhyming lines that carry the story forward. She is incorporates interesting words into her poetry, such as “asunder” and “dapple.” They will have children stretching and building vocabulary in the most organic and natural of ways.

The illustrations are truly the star of this beautiful book. Filled with a compelling mix of two-page spreads, one page images and sometimes groupings of vignettes, the illustrations are detailed and just right to pore over. Murphy’s art gives each of the animals their own personality, showing clearly how attitudes change from the beginning to the end of the book. The final pages offer a wordless look at the farm after the storm with everyone happily mingling together.

A look at prejudice and inclusion in a way that all children will understand. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (9781773213750)

Salma and her mother moved to Vancouver from Syria together. Salma’s father is still in Syria and planning to join them soon. Mama seems worried and tired all the time now, not smiling the way she did in the refugee camp with her friends. Salma tries many things to get her mother to smile or even laugh, but nothing seems to work. She heads to the Welcome Center and her teacher has her think about the last time she saw her mother happy. Salma realizes that it may be Syrian food that her mother is missing, since the last time she smiled she had been carrying a bowl of foul shami. So Salma decides that she will make her mother foul shami to bring back her happiness. Salma must figure out how to take the recipe in Arabic and get others to understand what she needs. She realizes that she can draw the various vegetables and ingredients and show them to the people at the supermarket. With her ingredients, now she must do the cooking, but not without plenty of help from others at the Welcome Center who are missing delicacies from their own lands too.

So often picture books depict the end of a family’s story as leaving the refugee camp. It is a pleasure to see a picture book grapple with how it feels to have come to a new country as a refugee and having your family still separated. The clear connection of food and culture is beautifully depicted here. Salma’s enthusiasm for her solution to her mother’s sadness and worry is moving, giving her something to focus on and actually do to help. The difficulty of the recipe and its many steps serves as a great challenge for Salma, and one that will bring her community together to help.

The illustrations have borders and geometric shapes that echo the tiles of Syria and Damascus. The color palettes change as the emotions on the page change, with blues showing the worry and concern and merry yellows flooding the pages with community and hope.

A marvelous look at food, family and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.

The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off by Wilfrid Lupano

The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off by Wilfrid Lupano

The Wolf in Underpants Freezes His Buns Off by Wilfrid Lupano, illustrated by Mayana Itoiz and Paul Cauuet (9781541586949)

This is the second Wolf in Underpants book. Winter has arrived in the woods and everyone is bundled up to play in the snow, enjoying winter activities, and eating cheese fondue to stay warm. Everyone is having a great time, except the wolf. When he walks through town, he declares “They’re freezing!” Everyone gets worried, because he seems quite angry. So they decide that it must be his feet that are cold and have the owl knit him some socks. When they send a small animal to deliver the socks, the animal disappears. The next day, the wolf is still upset and the town decides he must need a hat. But once again the animal delivering it disappears. Meanwhile, the rumors in town are multiplying and it is decided that the wolf has gone rogue! But when they burst into the wolf’s home, they discover something they never expected.

Originally published in French, this picture book is a fascinating look at privilege and need. It also look deeply at assumptions about those who may be more wolf-like than others and accepting differences. That is all packaged in a book that is packed with humor and plenty of witty asides. Younger readers will realize the villagers are making a mistake with their decisions, but still won’t quite be certain what the wolf is up to either. It’s a wonderful dynamic of the story and really makes the book a page turner right to the end.

The illustrations are done in a mix of picture book pages and graphic novel frames. The pages are filled with animals talking, huge stores of food and marvelous details of things like the bakery and cheese factory. The illustrations are detailed and create a vibrant village for readers to explore.

A great picture book about privilege, prejudice and kindness. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lerner.

What Will These Hands Make? By Nikki McClure

What Will These Hands Make by Nikki McClure

What Will These Hands Make? By Nikki McClure (9781419725760)

A grandmother’s special birthday party brings together an entire community in this picture book. Celebrating what can be done with one’s hands and created for another person, this book looks at the power of using hands for kindness and creativity. An old sweater is made into a fish-shaped pillow, hands make the six-tier birthday cake, a blanket is woven, a wooden box whittled, bread is baked, and children are cared for. The party is prepared for by the family and community, the event is held, and the book closes with the quiet afterwards. 

McClure excels in all of her books in making small moments meaningful and impactful. Here, she does exactly that with making things with one’s hands. In her note at the end, she points out that the art for her books is done entirely by hand by cutting paper with an exacto knife. Her poetic text invites readers to think about all the ways they can use their hands to create something too. Her art is as lovely as always, remarkable in that it is cut paper creating the faces of characters and their world. She uses selective colors to create special moments like the grandmother’s white hair, the red sweater, and the deep browns of wood. The entire book is done on darker paper that evokes brown paper bags and wholegrain bread. 

Another delight of a book from a master artist. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9780062687739)

One summer, the townspeople got together and raised a large barn. The narrator was a little boy at the time and he watched them create the foundation, build framing for the windows, and nail the shingles. In the process, his father’s wedding ring was lost and no one was able to find it. The family worked to finish the inside of the barn with spaces for each of the animals. They ended by summer by painting the barn red. The boy grew up, went away to school and came back to help with the farm. He got married in the barn, there were generations of sleepovers, and kittens were born there. Storms came, and the barn weathered them all. Then one day, the owl left its nest and inside was his father’s wedding ring!

In this picture book MacLachlan pays homage to the huge undertaking of raising a barn on the prairie. The neighbors who worked to make it possible, the continued work even after the structure was up and the dedication it took to work the land. Her writing is filled with details and delights from the fox watching the barn go up to the kittens and chickens around to the moment of seeing an opossum looking for shelter.

The art by Pak takes the isolation and flatness of the prairie and exaggerates them, leaving the huge red barn to dominate the landscape. The deep red of the barn, its stateliness and the way it stands to protect a family and a farm is beautifully depicted in the images that are quite haunting.

A barn that lasts 100 years is something quite special and so is this picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.