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.

Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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.

Review: Here and Now by Julia Denos

Here and Now by Julia Denos

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.

Review: A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

A Map into the World by Kao Kalia Yang

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.

Review: Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen

Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen

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.