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.
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (9781481438285)
In ten separate but linked stories, award-winning author Reynolds creates an entire neighborhood of ten blocks. The book begins, and refers throughout, with a school bus falling from the sky. There is one story per block, different kids on each block living their lives, going to school, facing various things in their futures, pasts and presents. There are best-friend boogers, petty theft for a good cause, complicated but important handshakes, stand-up comedy, body odor and body spray, and fake dogs. It’s a book about what happens after school, whether it is friendship or bullying, loneliness or comfort.
This one deserves a medal. Period. It’s one of those books that reads so easily, since it’s written with such skill. The voices of the characters are varied but all intensely realistic and vibrantly human. Reynolds plays with the reader but invites them into the joy of the joke, showing the layers of what children are and what they feel and do. He demonstrates that ten times here, always deeply exploring each character before moving on to the next and celebrating them.
The stories arc together moving from humor to pain to loss to fear to freedom and everywhere in between. The characters form a community on the page, streets unfold before the reader and they get to journey them with friends they just met opening the book. The final chapters are masterful, the text moving from narrative to spoken word to rap. The rhythm of the book throughout is a dance, here it becomes a heartbeat of life.
Look for this incredible read to win some big awards this spring. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Here and Now by Julia Denos, illustrated by E.B. Goodale (9781328465641)
The team who created the award-winning picture book Windows returns with a look at mindfulness. The book walks readers through a different way to view their own place in the world. It closely examines the ground under our feet and what is happening all around us at any given time, like rain collecting in a cloud. Animals around us are living their lives. We are on a planet spinning in space. New friends are waiting and new connections are being formed. And you, you are becoming something too!
Denos writes in a poetic manner that draws lovely connections between us and our entire environment. She places the reader right in this moment, acknowledging the changes happening all around us and the fact that we ourselves are changing too. This is a book that looks at us as individuals but even more as part of something much larger than ourselves. The illustrations by Goodale are dramatic and impactful. Her diverse cast of characters travel through spinning space along with the reader, enjoying the stars, nature and community along the way.
Inclusive and universal, this book invites you to think differently. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Seo Kim (9781541538368)
Released on October 1, 2019.
A Hmong girl moves into a new home in this picture book that celebrates community. The house had a swing and a garden full of melons and beans. Inside, the family hung the story cloth about how the Hmong came to America. Ruth and Bob, were two elderly neighbors who had a special bench they sat on. They waved to the girl and her family, and they were even older than the girl’s grandmother, Tais Tais. After her mother had her two little baby brothers, the little girl wanted to escape the crying sometimes, so she headed outside. In fall, the trees lost their leaves and the neighbor worked outside to rake them up. In the winter, no one sat outside anymore and no one waved. Then one day, the girl found out that Ruth had died. As spring arrived, they began work in the garden and saw Bob outside alone. That’s when the girl has an idea about how to show Bob that she cares.
There is a beautiful delicacy to this entire book from the fine-lined illustrations to the skillful balancing of seasons changing, new babies and someone passing. Yang invites readers into a Hmong family, showing elements such as story cloths and multiple generations of families living together. The friendly way of welcoming people to a neighborhood but also not intruding is shown here as well as how seasons in the Midwest connect everyone together in a shared experience of beauty and weather.
Kim’s illustrations embrace the natural world, showing the changing seasons with color and using grass and trees to depict a neighborhood and a home. When the little girl at the end of the book draws images on the sidewalk, there is a direct connection to the story cloth, showing a map of life that is universal but also specific to a Hmong tradition.
Deeply humane and community oriented. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve (9781771389174)
Vincent is staying with his aunt Mimi for the summer. She lives in an urban neighborhood with lots of concrete. Vincent is set for a dull summer where one of the most interesting things is the box of dirt balls that Mimi has from a previous boyfriend. But then Vincent meets Toma, a boy from the neighborhood. The two of them spend time together playing and take the dirt balls and toss them into the empty lot across the road. Soon not only is their friendship blossoming but the empty lot is being transformed by the dirt balls they tossed, dirt balls full of seeds. As the community joins together to care for the new garden, Vincent has to head home, but he will return next year to a neighborhood transformed by nature.
Larsen manages to show an urban neighborhood that is disconnected but still active before the garden appears. There are ice cream trucks, nosy neighbors, and balconies that connect people. Yet it is still a concrete space that needs something. It needs a garden! Told in a gentle tone and at a pace that allows space for the book to grow, this picture book is about transformation and community.
Villeneuve’s illustrations are done in quiet grays, pinks and blues that are almost hazy on the page. They transform along with the garden into vibrant colors of green that anchor the community visually and firmly.
A lovely picture book about the power of nature to create community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)
Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.
More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!
One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.
A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.
Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9780316464475)
A river flowed through the forest. The river had no idea it could have adventures until a big bear came along. As the curious bear toppled into the river, the adventure began. Soon Bear was joined by Froggy and they both climbed onto a log which headed down the river. Along the way, others joined them too. There was the beaver who could captain, the turtles who were worried about disaster, the raccoons who didn’t know how to be careful, and the duck they crashed into. Then came the waterfall…
Morris has written a book that begs to be shared aloud. From the various personalities of all of the creatures to the shared adventure that is filled with twists and turns, this book is full of fun. Morris uses an interesting turn of phrase throughout the book, with each additional animal and the river itself not knowing what they are capable of. It’s a great lens as each of the animals learns that they are not alone but instead part of a larger community and world.
Pham’s illustrations are zany and ever so funny. He completely captures the personalities of each of the characters as they head down the river. From their body language to their expressions, these creatures are in for a lot of adventure together. The added joy of the maps of the river as the endpages are great. Grayed-out at first, they are full color at the end.
A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer (9780399546723)
When Daniel walks to his Grandma’s house, many of his neighbors tell him to “Have a good day!” So Daniel decides to find out what makes a good day for some of the people he meets. Mrs. Sanchez, who paints houses, has a good day when the skies are clear so that she can paint. Emma has her kite along and a good day is one with a steady wind. Some people want a shady bench, others for their little ones to take a nap, The bus driver wants a please and thank you, while the gardener is looking for bees on her flowers. Daniel’s grandmother says that a hug from Daniel makes for a good day for her. In the afternoon, as he returns home, Daniel discovers that everyone found what they needed to have a good day, and so did he.
This second book about Daniel is just as charming as the first. The premise of looking at simple things that make for a lovely day allows children to see the importance of small elements in their own lives. Nothing here costs money, all items are significant and create joy in that person’s life. The writing is simple and straightforward, using the structure of an answer to Daniel’s question to move ahead at a brisk pace of a child walking through his urban community.
The illustrations are beautiful. Done in paper collage, they are filled diverse community members. In a city setting, the art also shows gardens and parks to fill the pages with green. The vibrant community is captured very successfully on the page with bright colors and lots of activity.
Another winner for Daniel. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (9781626724426)
The Little Guys are very small but when they work together they can do almost anything! Using leaves to float, they cross deep water. In the big forest, they hold hands to stay together and keep from being afraid. They find berries and form a stack to reach them. But as they continue their search for more and more food, they start using their combined strength in a way that upsets the rest of the forest. Chipmunks go flying, owls get forced out of their nests, and they even beat up a bear! Soon they have all of the food in the forest! But have they gone too far?
Brosgol follows her incredible Leave Me Alone! with this clever look at the impact of collective action and what happens when even the smallest of us upset the balance of nature and society. The text is simple and straightforward, told in the voice of the Little Guys as they head out scavenging. They are full of confidence as they make the trek to find food and it’s a stirring picture of the power of community until it goes awry in such a spectacular way.
Brosgol’s Little Guys are ever so adorable with their acorn caps and stick-thin limbs. Their orange bulbous noses also add to their appeal. With almost no facial expressions, it is impressive how she gives them emotions with body language. The dwarfing of their size in the forest and beside the other animals is also effectively portrayed.
A delight of a picture book that is an unusual look at sharing with your community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.