On the Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert

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On the Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Gerard DuBois (9781771647960)

A little rabbit and his father live together near the edge of a dark and menacing forest where no one goes. His father has always wanted to know what is on the other side of the forest, so he sets a plan in motion. He takes their wheat harvest and begins to bake bread. When other rabbits in the community come around, he offers them bread in exchange for four large stones. Those stones, the two rabbits use to start building a huge tower to see above the tall trees. Their work continues for weeks and weeks until one day a terrible storm knocks down all of their hard work. The father rabbit falls asleep exhausted near his ruined tower, and that is when the community of rabbits appears and helps to rebuild the tower, higher than it was before. After lots more bread, more stones and plenty of hard work, the tower is complete. The little rabbit and his father are the first to climb to the top and see the surprise waiting for them.

Translated from the original French, Robert’s picture book reads like a folkloric story filled with classic elements such as bread, stones and sacrifice. She uses a storyteller’s voice throughout the book, drawing readers into the story. She excels at brevity in her text, using just enough to keep the story moving ahead and also explaining what is happening with enough details to bring it to life.

The art is exceptional, marvelously mixing modern and vintage elements into something very interesting and unique. The idyllic countryside setting is shown both in the closeup images as well as those showing extensive landscapes. The process of building the tower uses all sorts of levers and pulleys, showing the ingenuity at work and the hard labor involved.

A book full of suspense, fresh bread and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty

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The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Shonto Begay (9780525645009)

Cody, a child living in the Navajo Nation, wakes up thirsty. The bucket in the kitchen is empty and so are all of the water barrels outside. This is the only water that Cody and his family have. Meanwhile, Darlene Arviso is getting ready to work. She has running water in her trailer, but many in the Navajo Nation do not. She climbs aboard the school bus she drives and delivers students to school. Then she heads to her other job. She fills the yellow tanker truck with water from the water tower and heads out onto the road once more. She drives many miles through the mesas, steep hills and valleys. Eventually, she reaches Cody’s home where she fills the water barrels. Over the course of a month, Darlene delivers water to over 200 families and then starts over again.

McGinty offers a glimpse into the story of one woman and her hard work that allows people on the Navajo Nation to survive without running water. At the same time, she also speaks to the hardship of lives lived without modern conveniences and the worry that can create in children like Cody. Throughout the book, Darlene is treated as the hero she is, a critical link to drinking water for families who ration it, using a fraction of what modern families tend to use.

Begay’s art captures the beauty of the Navajo Nation by showing many landscapes full of purple, blue and yellow light. Using watercolor washes to fill the background, he creates moments of worry, tenacity and joy as Darlene finally reaches them with water.

A powerful look at modern Navajos and the impact of community in the face of poverty. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

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Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu (9781536211276)

Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her older brother and sister and her grandmother. Tola is the youngest and quite small, though she notices throughout these three stories that often the smallest people turn out to be the strongest too. In the first story, Tola goes with her Grandmommy to the market because she is the best at counting change. She and her grandmother carry the heavy groceries and items back on their heads, stopping along the way for treats. In the next story, the water stops working in their apartment, so Tola wakes her siblings to get water from the well early so they aren’t late for school. But her clever idea doesn’t quite work out as expected. In the last story, Tola and her brother help their neighbor the tailor after he gets into an accident and can’t ride his bike. Thanks to her way with numbers, Tola can measure the clients for their new clothes and her brother is strong enough to pedal them all over the city.

Any new book by Atinuke is a treat, but one that introduces a new character and her family is a particular delight. As always, Atinuke shows both the poverty in Nigeria but also the strength of the community. Tola works hard throughout the book, making sure that she is taking care of her grandmother, her siblings and her neighbors. She uses her own particular skills to help, including her ability to notice small things, count correct change, and measure closely. She also uses her innate kindness and love for others to motivate herself.

The illustrations are done in friendly and often funny line drawings. These drawings show vital elements of the story such as the size of the rice bag that Grandmommy carries on her head and the length of the line at the well. They also help to break up the text, making this early chapter book approachable and adding clever humor.

Another charmer from a master Nigerian storyteller. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh

Vy’s Special Gift by Ha-Giang Trinh, illustrated by Evi Shelvia

Vy rushes in the morning to reach the line to get rice. She is running late, but still gets a spot. Set in Vietnam during Covid, she wears and mask and stands in line on the marked spot to be socially distanced from others. The line is very long and everyone is tired. Ahead of her in line is a woman with a baby and a small boy. Vy sings to the baby, a lullaby to get him to settle. She reads the little boy a poem of rice and rain. Then the two of them draw a picture together that they give to an older woman in line. Vy lets the woman go ahead of her in line, but when Vy reaches the end, there is no more rice. But the small kindnesses she performed in line come back to her in rice for her family.

Trinh tells this story with a real grace. She shows the poverty and need with frankness while also showing how small acts of kindness in the midst of a pandemic can make all the difference in people’s lives. The story has a genuine quality to it, the acts of kindness are thoughtful and realistic as is the final sharing of rice amongst everyone who was impacted by Vy’s kindness. The text is written in a mix of narration and speech bubbles, combined with poetry and song lyrics.

Shelvin’s illustrations embrace the mixtures of texts, highlighting the song and poem with freshly bright colors of bright pinks, yellows and blues. The majority of the book is done in a subtle color palette with golds, pale blue and gray.

A quiet and lovely look at the pandemic and everyday kindness in a crisis. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by the author.

There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder

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There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder, illustrated by Grant Snider (9781797211664)

This picture book captures the experience of the Covid pandemic as we are all stuck in a place in between for months. It is a place where school is on the other side of the computer screen, where windows separate us from neighbors. But it is also a bright place, full of praise for the heroes who kept us going, phone calls with grandparents. It is a place of light, of sunsets, of time spent outdoors together. It is a place of loss, sadness and comfort. It is a storm that promises a rainbow tomorrow.

Told in simple poetic phrases, this picture book takes a frank look at the changes the pandemic brought us. While it could have stayed focused on the distance, instead it turns it around and shows the new ways we connected with others, with nature and with the promise of the future. This picture book sets just the right tone of respect for those who were lost, seriousness about the nature of the pandemic, and joy that it may pass and bring us somewhere beautiful.

Snider’s illustrations are done in bright colored pencil. The characters are whimsically drawn, while the urban landscape glows on the page. The book offers rainbows of color long before the literal one arrives at the end of the book.

Timely and quietly full of joy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham (9781250798350)

This picture book looks at what happened in 2020 when the pandemic hit. It turned bustling and busy neighborhoods into empty ones. Everyone stayed inside, everyone all over the world. Some people though continued to work, like police officers, doctors, grocery store workers and post office employees. Outside the squirrels and animals walked more freely in the empty streets. Inside everyone cooked, baked, played games and spent lots of time together. It all felt very different. Things kept on growing inside and out. Why did we all do it? It’s all about being different on the outside but just the same on the inside.

Pham has created a book that shows the best of us during the pandemic. It focuses on how people stayed inside and apart, how we made the best of it, and how nature continued on without us there. It shows how the brave essential workers carried on doing their vital jobs and celebrates the risks that they took. The ending of the book is sure to fill your heart too.

Pham’s art shows the wide diversity of people around the world who quarantined during the pandemic, showing different families as they stayed inside and entertained themselves with music, movies and more. Pham takes our warmth and connectivity and shows how we all made a difference during this difficult time.

A lovely and touching look at the pandemic’s impact on us all. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing.

Mr. Brown’s Bad Day by Lou Peacock

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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

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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.