Yours in Books by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo (9781951836207)
Owl is looking for peace and quiet to be able to read his books. So he reaches out to a local bookshop to get titles that might help. After getting the store’s catalog, he asks for titles like “How to Soundproof Your Forest Dwelling” and “The Can-Do Guide to Moving to a Remote Tropical Island.” However, the store doesn’t have those titles, instead sending other books, ones that are helping as the youngsters of the forest begin to listen to Owl read stories aloud, bake treats together, and make crafts. Happily, the books selected by the cheery squirrel are just what Owl actually needs.
Told entirely in the letters being exchanged, the emerging relationship between Owl and Squirrel is a joy. At first businesslike, the accurate assessment by Squirrel of the book that Owl truly needs leads to exchanges of jokes and invitations to tea parties and visiting the bookshop. The entire book is about accepting a changing neighborhood complete with young and eager visitors who may also be exactly what Owl needs in his life.
The simple illustrations evoke the warm and lovely life in the woods. From the book-filled shop to the often spattered Owl looking surprised that some things are actually working out well. Readers will want to join in on their tea party and also head out to visit the bookshop and have Squirrel pick a tome just for them.
Full of friendship, letters, books and baking. What a treat! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Based on a true story, this picture book explores hate crimes and what a community can do to stand up for what they believe in. Isaac lived in the one house in town decorated in blue and white for Chanukah rather than red and green for Christmas. Teresa lived across the street in a house with a big Christmas tree. The two were best friends. They both loved playing in the snow, being creative, and lots of sprinkles. One night, a shadow approached Isaac’s house and threw a rock through their front window. Isaac’s family considered not lighting the menorah that night, but lit it after all. Teresa made a picture of a menorah to support them, one that glowed with white and blue light. Soon others in the neighborhood joined them, then the school and library, then more and more. Finally, 10,000 windows lit with a combination of red and green and blue and white, standing in solidarity against hate.
Inspired by events that happened in 1993 in Billings, Montana, this picture book shows how one act of hatred cannot stand before a community committed to being there for one another and standing in unity together. The book shines with hope and love, the moment of darkness at its center an important opportunity for a community to show who they really are. It’s a book of inclusion and community, an important story for our volatile times.
Zelinsky’s illustrations are filled with light and darkness. From the glowing holiday lights spilling out of homes to the darkness of the act of hatred, there is a distinct insistence not to fear the darkness but to make it one’s own. The final image of the mixture of holiday lights is profoundly moving and sets just the right tone for all of our winter holiday celebrations.
Important, beautiful and inspiring. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Levine Querido.
This wordless picture book shows how one act of kindness can turn into a chain of goodness that impacts an entire community and comes full circle. A woman wakes up in the morning to a stack of missing dog flyers. As she is hanging her flyers, she grabs a red apple from her bag. She decides to give it to a busker in the square. A man who saw that kindness smiles and picks up some litter. A little boy who sees that in turn helps a little girl who lost her balloon. One by one, a lost key is returned to its owner, an umbrella is shared in the rain, toys are shared, flowers are gifted. Finally. someone finds the dog and returns him too.
The illustrations in this wordless picture book tell the entire story, so it is critical that they clearly share large and small emotions. From the sorrow of losing a pet to the discovery of small acts of kindness, the illustrations show the way that kindness impacts people. The use of color is cleverly done with most of the illustrations in blacks and grays. Touches of red show kindness happening or people who have been impacted by kindness. By the end of the book the gray city has been lit with red all over.
This is a wordless book that works well for elementary-aged children due to the depth of its subject matter. There is great pleasure in following the color through the book, seeing who notices the kindness and who benefits from it as it passes through their lives.
Subtle, lovely and filled with goodness and community. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Chronicle Books.
The boy who narrates this story of a hurricane has a neighborhood dock that he loves. No one ever uses it except for him. It’s old, splintery and weathered, and just perfect. He can fish from the dock, catch crabs and swim. One day when he returned home from the dock, the air felt different and his father was putting boards over the windows. A storm was coming. The winds were big enough to shake the whole house and the river crept up the street. The next morning, the boy headed back to his dock, ready to fish. But his neighborhood looked different and the dock was destroyed. The boy asked everyone for help rebuilding the dock, but they were busy fixing their homes. So he knew he had to do it himself. Day after day, he worked on the dock all alone. Just when he was about to give up, help arrived. The whole town helped rebuild the dock into something that they could all share.
Caldecott-Honoree, Rocco, continues his exploration of natural disasters with this third book following Blizzard and Blackout. Rocco captures the joy of being near water, both when you have a treasured place that you can use alone and when it’s bustling and shared. The connection with nature is evident throughout the book, with the unnamed protagonist taking solace during the storm by imagining himself under his dock. The hard work the boy does to get his special place back is then supported by the community and shows the power of helping one another.
Rocco’s illustrations are full of sunshine and water at first. They show how the boy loves his time at the dock. Then the storm comes and Rocco has captured the unique lighting of pre-storm hours and then the darkness that descends. The devastation afterwards is realistic and dramatic, with trees down, shingles on the ground, and a flooded road. The moment that the boy sees his dock is particularly heart-wrenching and also a moment of resilience.
This picture book celebrates nature and community even in moments of devastation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.
The Robber Girl was rescued by Gentleman Jack when her family abandoned her. Now she is riding with him and his gang into the Indigo Heart to rob the stagecoach and get Gentleman Jack the bars of gold it carries so he can regain his birthright. Robber Girl has her own dagger, double-edged and sharp, that speaks directly to her in a pointed way that criticizes many of her choices. But the stagecoach is actually a ruse to capture Gentleman Jack. Now for the first time in her memory, Robber Girl is staying in a home. She is dedicated to rescuing Gentleman Jack from the jail, assuring him that she will never turn on him. At her new home, she discovers a dollhouse that is a miniature of the house, one with dolls who talk with her and set her three tasks. As Robber Girl stays longer, she starts to remember scraps of local songs, melodies and the truth, but the dagger’s voice stays just as pointed in her head, insisting that she keep it all forgotten.
The author of Chime returns with a middle grade novel that is a tremendous read. The Robber Girl is one of the best written unreliable narrators I have seen in a book for children. She fully believes what she has been told by Gentleman Jack, though readers will immediately realize that there are holes in the stories. As both the readers and the girl find clues to her past, the largest puzzle of the book is the girl herself and whether she can recover from denial and trauma enough to set her own course before being swept away again by the lies.
Billingsley has written great secondary characters as well. Gentleman Jack is tremendously charming and manipulative. The judge, who takes the girl in, and his grieving wife have real depth to their characters and their stories. They add another look at coping with loss and trauma to the novel. Even the children of the village, who may seem to be bullies, have other levels to them and reveal them over time. It’s an exquisite look at trauma, faith and belonging.
A stellar middle-grade novel that is a tantalizing puzzle of trauma and truth laced with a touch of fantasy. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
As a rather lazy alligator, Bob comes up with a great plan to get birds to fly right up to his mouth. He opens a birdseed restaurant on his nose. After seasoning his birdseed with his favorite spices, so the birds would taste delicious, news soon spread about his restaurant among the bird community. Soon a small town grew around Chez Bob. Bob wanted to support the community, so he coached the bird basketball team and joined a book club. When a large storm came, Bob offered all of the birds shelter in his mouth. This was his perfect opportunity to eat them all! But he could hear them laughing and talking together and then looked around the empty town. He knew what he had to do.
Shea’s books are always a delight. This one contains just enough adult level humor that parents will enjoy reading it to their children multiple times. Just the book club page alone had me guffawing aloud, and there are lots of moments like that. While Bob may start out as a villain, I agree with him that hero isn’t too strong a word by the end of the story. There is great delight in watching Bob decide what he should do, all for the community good that he accidentally created.
Shea’s illustrations are large and bold, full of bright colors. They feature all sorts of little birds who come to Bob’s community and to Chez Bob too. Bob’s own scheming face is a delight as he plots to eat the birds. By the end though, the scheming grin turns into a genuine smile.
A delicious and sharp-toothed book about the transformation of a villain. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill (9781250221117)
Being strong doesn’t just mean that you can make it to the top of the climbing wall in gym like Cayla. The young narrator has been told by her family that being strong will get you through life when hard times hit. But some days she can’t even lift her heavy backpack. So she asks her father how she can be strong. He tells her that strength is showing up like when they help people who have lost their homes. Her mother says strength is speaking up, like when her mother worked to get a crossing guard at a busy street. Her grandmother says it means not giving up, like her starting to run. So the girl figures out what the means for her, how she can help those around her, how she can speak up and change the way things work, and how if she keeps on trying she can reach her goals both on her own and with some help.
Miller cleverly plays against the stereotypical definition of strength early in this picture book. She shows that yes, physical strength is definitely strength and then proceeds through the rest of the book to show the other aspects of strength, including resilience, determination, speaking up, setting goals, and asking for help. Miller’s text is simple and reads aloud well. She nicely walks young readers through what strength is, allowing them to see it both in themselves and others.
Hill’s illustrations show a diverse cast of characters in an urban setting. The young narrator is Black and her community of classmates and others are a variety of races and religions. The illustrations are bright and friendly, inviting readers into a world where children can make a difference.
A vibrant look at strength and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
All We Need by Kathy Wolff, illustrated by Margaux Meganck (9781619638747)
This picture book explores what we need to live. That includes essentials like air, food and water, then the book also explores the importance of learning opportunities, having a home, and the joy of family and friends. Told in poetic text, the book explores the necessities in ways that show how they bring special moments to our lives. For example, air is explained first as stillness and deep breaths. Food is explored both for filling bellies but also through the illustrations as cultural connection. This picture book takes simple essentials and shows the way they allow us to form community and inclusion.
Wolff’s poetic writing establishes those connections clearly, exploring the deep connection we have to air, water, food and one another. The book ends by establishing what we should do when we have enough or more than we need. Sharing becomes just as essential as the other elements here, connecting to new people and a larger community through generosity and giving.
Meganck’s illustrations are bright and colorful with a diverse cast of characters, including diverse races, religions and LGBT representation. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, showing playful elements of air and water. The images are given several full-page wordless spreads that reveal new ways to connect and form community with one another.
A look at sharing, connection and being human. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Mouse had been trying to live with Cat, but there were problems. Most of them from the fact that Cat wanted to eat Mouse all the time. Mouse loved her ship in a bottle, so she filled it with gingersnaps and with some help from Cat headed out into the world. Her bottle floated along and while it was sometimes peaceful, there were also attacks by rude seagulls trying to get the cookies. Mouse came to shore and met lots of new rabbit friends who loved gingersnaps, though once the cookies were gone, they sent Mouse on her way. Mouse continued downstream with nothing but a few crumbs that eventually ran out. Then a storm arrived with lightning and big waves. She came to a shore near a large city where she met a chipmunk who shared a berry and the ship. Mouse soon met many new friends who helped her, even some kind seagulls who shared. She was able to find safe sunshine, a safe place for her ship in a bottle, and a community.
Prahin’s picture book has a merry sense of humor throughout. His timing is perfect, landing some of the twists of the story with a wry grin. From the first part of the book with Cat chasing Mouse all over their house to the middle with hopes dashed, all builds beautifully to finding a place where Mouse is accepted, can help others, and finds friends. The arc of the story is very effective, offering a wonderful circle back to Cat at the end.
The illustrations do so much to reflect Mouse’s own emotions. There is the darkness and gray of the house with Cat which turns to blues, greens, and pinks as Mouse is freed to float away down the stream. When the rabbits eat Mouse’s gingersnaps and then reject her, the world turns dingy again as the storm threatens. The world brightens and fills with colors once more as Mouse finds a place she belongs.
A lovely look at community, acceptance and a watery adventure. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.