Review: Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (9780316431248)

When Omu makes her thick red stew in her apartment, its delicious smell brings people to her door to discover what she is cooking. One by one, she feeds each of them some of her stew. There is the little boy, the police officer, the hotdog vendor, and many more. By the time Omu has given each of them a bowl, her large pot of stew is empty and there isn’t any left for her own dinner! Someone once again knocks on her door and it is all of the people she fed that day offering their own thanks and food to share with her.

Mora writes with the feel of a traditional tale. On just the first page, there is a cadence that feels immediately familiar and warm. Details are shared in just the right way, then the repetition kicks in, linking this even more with a traditional folktale. Mora has crafted the book with collage pages that combine different mediums. The stew itself is always red and often flowered. The smell wafts across the page in a swath of light-colored haze. Meanwhile, the vibrant urban community is brought to life and abuzz with energy.

A top read-aloud of the year, this picture book should be shared just like red stew. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker

The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker

The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, illustrated by Mark Pett (9781419725746)

The very last castle stands in the middle of a small town. No one ever goes into the castle and no one ever comes out. A single guard looks out from the tower. The townspeople can hear noises coming from the castle. Some think it might be monsters, others think it could be giants or snakes. Ibb is a girl who lives in the town and thinks about the castle a lot. One day, she gathers her courage and knocks on the huge castle door, but no one answers and she hears a terrible hiss. Soon afterward, Ibb gets an invitation to appear at the castle gate on Sunday. Ibb goes to the castle and is let inside where she discovers the source of the noises and forms a new connection with the man who lives there.

Jonker’s first picture book is impressive. He uses a traditional picture book tone here built on wonder and curiosity. The incorporation of the various noises that emanate from the castle is a very nice touch, making the book all the more fun to share aloud. His writing is focused and tight and the story can be read both as a straightforward tale but also as an allegory for the walls we build in our lives.

Pett creates a winning young heroine for readers, someone who firmly roots this book in the modern age with her backpack and school days. The juxtaposition between the ancient castle and the young girl works particularly well. The art is playful and the reveal of the interior of the castle is worth the suspense.

A picture book worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Review: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac (9781632896339)

This picture book looks at modern life in the Cherokee Nation. Looking at being grateful, the book explores the year and its seasons. Along the way, various Cherokee words are shared with the reader both in English lettering and also in Cherokee syllabary. Throughout the book, a strong connection with nature is shared with buckbrush, cane flutes, wild onions, and large gardens. There is also a clear connection with Cherokee history from the Trail of Tears to family members who have passed on to festivals and memorials. This is a book about community that celebrates the earth, survival, and family.

This is Sorell’s debut picture book. A member of the Cherokee Nation, her prose here reflects her skill as a poet, bringing a soaring feel to the moments she shares. The book ends with a glossary of terms that will inform readers about the connection to things like stickball and gigging. Sorell uses the title phrase of “We are grateful” again and again in the book, creating a rhythmic feel of a traditional tale.

Lessac’s illustrations are done in gouache, creating bright and rich colors that show entire scenes on the page. The greens of nature, the blues of the water and sky, the bursts of color in homes and gardens, all have a great depth of color.

A wonderful modern look at Cherokee traditions and our universal gratitude for community and family. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Africville by Shauntay Grant

Groundwood Logos Spine

Africville by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell (9781773060439)

A girl visits the historical site of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She imagines what the community was once like, how the children would play together. She imagines lunch on the tables, picking blueberries over the hill. She imagines playing games, going rafting, and bonfires by the water. Her great-grandmother had lived in Africville before it was destroyed in the 1960s after surviving for over 150 years. But the black community of Africville never received the same services as the rest of Halifax despite paying taxes. The community was eventually relocated from the site and moved to public housing. Africville is now a park where former residents and their descendants return to remember the community that had once stood there.

Grant gives us a glimpse of what Africville once was. The picture book keeps descriptions short and the focus on children and their lives in the community. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that offers more context for what Africville was and what happened to its residents. The use of a modern child to dream about what might have been in Africville is a great lens through which to look at life there. The peacefulness and sense of community pervade the entire read.

Campbell’s illustrations are filled with deep colors. The bonfire pages glow with reds of fire and sunset. There is lush green everywhere and the houses pop with bright paint colors. She creates the warmth of a real community on the pages, illustrations that seem to have sunlight shining from them.

A gorgeous tribute to a piece of Canadian history. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali

Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali

Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali, illustrated by Maria Dek (9781616896997)

One morning, Mouse wakes up and wants an omelet for breakfast. The trouble is, he doesn’t have an egg. So he asks the blackbird for an egg. Blackbird has flour, but no egg perhaps they could make a cake instead! The two set off to find an egg, and along the way, they gather more and more animals and ingredients. The dormouse has butter. Mole has sugar. Hedgehog has apples. Raccoon has cinnamon. Lizard has raisins. And finally, Bat has an egg! Owl lets them bake the cake in her oven. But when the divvying up of the cake comes into question, does Mouse get anything? After all, she didn’t really contribute something. Or did she?

This book is a clever riff on Stone Soup where everyone’s contributions come together to make something much more special. It uses repetition very nicely to give it a distinct folklore flavor. The final question of whether Mouse gets a slice of cake for initiating the idea and the entire process is an interesting one. The end will satisfy everyone except maybe hungry children who will want some apple cake themselves.

The illustrations add to the folklore appeal with their friendly animals and forest setting that is whimsically depicted. Each animal has their own personality and feel thanks to the illustrations and the way they appear on the page.

A great read-aloud choice that would pair well with autumn stories about apples and baking. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay.jpg

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay (9781773061382)

Mustafa and his family had to leave their country and traveled a long way to reach their new home. Sometimes Mustafa dreams of where they used to live, dreams of fire, smoke and noise. Then his mother shows him the moon, the same moon that shines over both of their homes. Mustafa’s apartment is above a green park. In the park, Mustafa sees a girl walking a cat on a ribbon, but when she speaks he can’t understand her. The next day, Mustafa is back in the park drawing what he saw in his last home. The girl comes to draw with him and soon her butterflies and flowers overtake his burning buildings and broken trees. Mustafa keeps going to the park, but no one else approaches him. He begins to wonder if he’s invisible. Then once again the same girl sees him. They feed the fish in the fountain together and swing high side-by-side. Then they learn one another’s names.

Gay tells the story of a child refugee in way that shows the dangers and oppression of his past in ways that children will understand. He experiences them in dark dreams and in drawing his experiences and fears in the dirt. At the same time, this does not minimize his past at all. The language barriers are also fully explored here as well as the isolation that child refugees can feel in their new society. It is a book that avoids being didactic about what children should do and instead shows what a single kindness can create in another’s life.

The illustrations have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom that resonates with the story being told. They are done in pastel colors that then move on the vibrancy of autumn. Skilled use of watercolors gives a sense of motion and change on the page as well as the feeling that there are possibilities waiting to be discovered.

A warm look at welcoming refugee families to their new home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup

Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup

Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup (9781680100945)

This picture book provides a moving look at our interconnected nature around the world. The text is poetic and flowing while the illustrations show animals from different regions and climates. Everyone lives under the same sky, loves in the same way. We play the same games, sing the same songs. We all face challenges and dream big dreams. Through the clever use of cutouts on the pages and dramatic page turns, this picture book is simple and stirring.

Teckentrup excels at creating picture books with unique elements. Here she uses page cutouts to glimpse the beginning of each stanza, tying the different parts of the world even more firmly together. The text is simple and straightforward. It is the illustrations that really shine, showing all sorts of animals living and loving together no matter where they live. The art has a gorgeous light and depth to it, filled with moonlight, sunshine and even the pastels of dawn.

A lovely and simple look at our interconnected world. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: We Are All Me by Jordan Crane

We Are All Me by Jordan Crane

We Are All Me by Jordan Crane (9781943145355)

Released on September 4, 2018.

This bright picture book celebrates the many ways that we are all connected to one another. We are all alive in the same world made up of cloud, water and air, earth, sunshine and plants. We are made of bone and meat, our hearts all beat. We are all made of cells and atoms. And we are all alive and aware, all of us together.

Inspired by an idea his wife had for a holiday called Interdependence Day, this book takes a simple concept and looks deeply at it. The text stays simple but asks readers to think about connectedness in our lives. The text is simple enough to be a poem, using internal rhymes and some repetition to carry it forward. The illustrations use bright colors and pop-art style to invite readers into the rainbow that we all are inside.

Unusual and intriguing, this picture book will be beloved by those who see their own take on human connection on the page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Toon Books.

 

3 Picture Books that Celebrate Community

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781452155418)

A superb concept book that has a definite Muslim flair that is very welcome. The rhyming story opens with the cone-shaped tops of the minaret. Rectangle is the mosque’s door. Then readers get invited in to see octagon fountains, arches, triangles formed by stairs. The book moves on to gardens, a shared meal at an oval table. It ends with a crescent moon in the sky.

I appreciate that this concept book about shapes offers many shapes that are not the expected ones like cones and crescents. Add in the focus on diversity that is inherent on each page, and this book is certainly something special. The book includes Muslim terms that are used in the text and then defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The illustrations are modern and bright, a mix of tradition and modernity that shines on the page. The shapes are clear and easily found in each image. A gem of a picture book that belongs in all collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin (9781626725621)

Join a family on their Fourth of July celebration at the lake, complete with pie for everyone to share. There are other things that are perfect for sharing too, like a book, a ball and a tree. How about sharing a jump rope and a rhyme to skip by? As the book progresses, more and more children play together along the shore and even more things are shared. There are stick and stones, boats and water, stories, hugs and hideouts. And in the end, fireworks and another slice of pie!

This Fourth of July book truly looks at the holiday through the eyes of a child. It is lit by sparklers and fireworks as evening comes, but the day itself is brightened by all of the time spent as a family and a community. New friends are made; old friendships are strengthened. The illustrations are particularly lovely. They use child-height perspectives as well as other inventive ones to really see the holiday from a little-one’s point of view. The illustrations are realistic, sun filled and pure summer on a page.

Share this one any day of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

You_re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (9781911373292)

On a dark and stormy night, the little animals could not call asleep. Mama Elephant stayed with them. She rocked them in her trunk, repeating “You’re safe with me.” The wind moaned in the trees, awakening the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that the wind carries seeds from faraway into the forest. Thunder sounded startling the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that with thunder comes the rain that waters the seeds from the wind. Lightning flashed and Mama Elephant soothed the little animals with tales of the stars coming back to the sky. Finally, the river burbled and the little ones fell asleep with Mama Elephant’s refrain of “You’re safe with me.”

Told in a folklore-like style with repeating refrains and a firm story structure, this picture book carries the feeling of India with it. It carries a traditional feel, the warmth of Mama Elephant and the comfort she brings with her simple presence almost erases the storm. She uses the cycles of life, plant and animal, to reassure the little animals which makes for a rich story.

The illustrations are amazing and also have a traditional feel to them. Filled with small dots, they are deep with spice and jungle colors. Their richness creates images that children will love to look at, discovering the animals almost hidden on the pages between the leaves of the forest.

A superb bedtime book just right for stormy nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Lantana Publishing.)