Tag: community

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff

Along the River by Vanina Starkoff (9781554989775, Amazon)

The river is the way that everyone travels in Brazil. Crowded with boats, the river flows. There are two in a canoe, boats filled with potted plants and others that are bustling kitchens. Some boats are schools and others are stores. There are boats filled with shared music, while others sleep in the sun. Throughout there is a sense of community and happiness as life and the river flow by.

Starkoff uses only a few words per page. They invite readers to see the river as a place of connection and community. Readers will also enjoy the names of the various vessels that speak to the feeling of joy that pervades the entire book. The illustrations are vibrant and loud with the river and sky a zingy yellow that adds pizzazz to the images. Children will love following various characters through their day on the river and watching new friendships develop before their eyes.

An import from Brazil, this book has a low key vibe that is full of laid back joy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9780763690847, Amazon)

Nominated for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year, this picture book is exceptional. In a time of war, the library is burned and only one book survives. Peter’s father has that book and creates an iron box to keep it safe. When Peter and his father flee their town, they carry the book with them. Peter’s father dies on the journey and he continues to carry the book with him, even leaving behind his suitcase to manage it. Finally, Peter must leave the box behind, but he hides it safely first. Years later, Peter is able to return to the box and rescue the book, restoring it to his hometown and its library.

Wild’s lovely and simple text allows the drama of the story elements to speak for themselves, never injecting more horror into it. That approach allows the reader to feel deeply the loss and pain of losing one’s homeland. Even the death of Peter’s father is subtle and gentle, allowing the grief to permeate more fully. It makes the focus on the importance of the book all the more tangible and vital.

It is Blackwood’s illustrations that truly make this book amazing. She has created layered illustrations that have shadows and depth to them. Throughout the images, there are pages of books shown. They fall as scraps of paper with words of hope on them, dash across the page as rain, and form the smoke of the burning town. They create the landscape and the foundation beautifully.  Here is an image from the book and Blackwood’s blog:

Treasure Box Image

A war-torn book that speaks to the power of history and knowledge along with resistance and resilience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington (9781580895477, Amazon)

Through a series of poems, take a visit to the farmer’s market. From the early work done by farmers long before their customers are awake to the market itself, this book celebrates one of the joys of summer. There are poems about how markets transform empty parking lots, the displays of heaped produce, the friendly sharing of samples, tempting baked goods, and the feeling of community that markets bring. It’s also a collection that celebrates the food too, the freshness of the produce and the bounty that people bring home.

Schaub very successfully has captured the summer joy of farmer’s markets across the country. One can hear the bustle and busyness of the market, captured in her poetry. Throughout there is a sense of humor and immense pleasure at what the market provides beyond the food itself. The poetry has a lightness that reflects the feel of summer and sunshine.

Huntington’s illustrations are equally bright and sunny. She incorporates people of a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures in her images, making sure to fully celebrate communities in her images. She also cleverly weaves a story in her images with a loose dog who adds to the energy of the day.

A fresh and vibrant look at farmer’s markets that is perfect zest to a summer day. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Aminas Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (9781481492065, Amazon)

Amina doesn’t like the spotlight. Her best friend Soojin knows that Amina can really sing, but Amina just won’t even try for the solo for the upcoming concert. Amina’s life is changing now that they are in middle school. Soojin has started being friendly with Emily even though Emily had helped bully them in elementary school. Amina just isn’t ready to forgive Emily so quickly. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle comes to visit from Pakistan, bringing new ideas about what it means to be Muslim. He causes Amina to start to question whether she should even be singing or playing music at all. Amina feels pressured to change but in multiple directions at once.

Khan has created a book for middle schoolers that takes a quieter look at diversity, family and being true to oneself. It is a book that looks closely at what it means to be a Muslim girl in America and how to follow the values of your culture even as you are pressured to be more American. It is a book that looks at the power of voice, of music and of community to overcome hardship and to share emotions. It is a book that has a gorgeous warmth to it, a joy of family, friendship and diversity.

Amina is a very special protagonist. Rather than being the center of attention, she doesn’t seek it at all. Still, she is lonely or ignored. She has friends and is grappling with the normal changes that come during middle school. On top of that, she is also asking deeper questions about faith, culture and living in America that will ring true for all young readers. Amina’s quietness and thoughtfulness allow those questions to shine.

Filled with important questions for our modern world, this middle-grade novel sings with a voice all its own. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (9780062498533)

This teen novel has more buzz than any I’ve ever seen. Happily, it is all entirely justified and I’ll join the crowd in singing its praises and looking forward to the upcoming film!

Starr is sixteen and witnessed a friend killed in a drive-by shooting when she was a child. Now she finds herself witnessing another killing, this time another friend who is shot in the back by a police officer during a traffic stop. Starr already lives in two worlds, the poor neighborhood where her family lives and her father has a store and the private prep school she attends in the suburbs. Now she must walk an ever more razorsharp edge, figuring out the dangers of the truth and the equally harsh dangers of staying silent.

Thomas takes on racism in modern America head on and without flinching. She paints a picture of poor African-American communities that looks beyond the poverty into the heart of the community itself. Still, this is not a picket fence world but one that is complex, riddled with gang activity, but still has a heart and a culture that sings. Thomas also shows the choices that African Americans must make in staying in a crime-filled community to help or moving away for safety of their children. It is not simple, nothing in this novel is, thank goodness.

The characters are incredibly rich and complicated as well. Starr is a wonderful heroine, grappling with grief, the situation of being a witness, and the knowledge that even telling the truth may not make a difference. She is wise, young, hopeful and jaded all at once. She is a face for what is happening in this country and a way that white teens can understand the issues and black teens can see themselves portrayed beautifully in a novel.

I must also mention the incredible African-American fathers shown in the book. Yes, there are men who are awful here too. But Maverick is a complicated father with high expectations for his children who cheated on Starr’s mother and also did jail time for his gang activity. That doesn’t mean he isn’t there for his family or loves them any less. Again, it’s complicated. Add to that Uncle Carlos who is a police officer and who stepped in to help raise Starr when Maverick was in jail. He is a crucial character to the story, and also a critical figure in Starr’s upbringing and her strength.

This debut novel is breathtakingly honest, searingly angry and exactly what we need right now. I can’t wait to see what this author does next! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Be the Change by Arun Gandhi

be-the-change-by-arun-gandhi

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk (InfoSoup)

Arun lives in a village with his grandfather. The purpose of life in the ashram was to work in service for one another. For Arun, that meant following his grandfather’s rules as well and the hardest for Arun was not to waste. One day, Arun grew tired of his vow not to waste and threw an almost worn out pencil away into the grass. When he asked for a new pencil that night, his grandfather said that he had had a fine pencil just that morning. He went on to explain that the thing of importance was not the pencil but Arun himself. So Arun set off after dark to find the pencil nub in the grass. Still, it would take more teachings from his grandfather for Arun to finally connect wasting nothing with nonviolence as Arun works to define what passive violence actually is.

In a lesson ideal for our time of large consumption and rude political discourse, this picture book is a gentle salve. It speaks of small moments of choice actually shaping our persona and our ideas. One small pencil nub is actually a decision to live without excess and without damaging others. The message is delivered through the curious eyes of a young boy who asks the questions that readers will also have. This is a lovely and accessible look at the teachings of Gandhi.

Turk’s illustrations are lush and patterned. He uses collage at times, fabric folds popping off the page. Gorgeous colors fill nature with purple trees, silver rimmed clouds, the glow of orange understanding after a darkness of shadow.

This second picture book about Grandfather Gandhi is a treat and offers opportunity for discussions about waste and care for others. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a small house on a hill near the sea where he watches for the glint of glass in the waves. It is his job to deliver any messages found in bottles to their rightful owner. Sometimes that means walking only a short distance and other times he must go on a long journey to deliver them. He wishes that one day he would find a message in a bottle that is meant for him, but he never does. One day though, he does find a message with no recipient mentioned. It is an invitation to a party on the beach. He heads into town and asks person after person if this is their message, but it doesn’t belong to any of them. He decides he must go to the party to apologize for not delivering the message to the right person. But what he finds there shows him that some messages are meant for him after all.

Cuevas writes with real poetry in this picture book. Her prose captures the essence of moments with gorgeous descriptions like, “Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.” The book celebrates the connection that letters bring each of us and takes readers back to a time when messages were written by hand, even if rarely placed in bottles. It is also a book that speaks to the importance of community and feeling like you belong, but also the vitality that can be found in taking the first step towards making that connection.

Stead’s illustrations are dreamy with their pastel colors and fine lined details. Some of them are almost like looking through a keyhole and watching while others encompass the page. There are pages filled with the water of the sea that show both the difficulty of the job and the loneliness of it too. Moments looking alone out of a window capture the isolation the Uncorker is feeling. The colors too add to the emotions of the images both during the isolation and later at the party.

A poetic and beautiful picture book that looks at letters, community and connections in a memorable way. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.