The Line Tender by Kate Allen (9780735231603)
Released April 16, 2019.
An incredible debut novel, this is the story of Lucy, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in Rockport, Massachusetts. Her mother, a shark biologist, died when she was seven of a brain aneurysm while out in a boat studying sharks. Lucy lives with her father, a diver who puts in lots of extra hours as he works to rescue or recover people. Lucy also lives next door to her best friend, Fred. Fred is a scientist while Lucy prefers art. Together during the summer, they are working on a field guide about wildlife in Rockport. So when Sookie’s nets bring in a great white shark, Lucy and Fred immediately head to the pier to see it. Fred begins to study Lucy’s mother’s proposals to study sharks in a new way. When tragedy strikes, Lucy must figure out how to navigate a new loss even as white sharks begin to appear along the coast, seeming to be a sign to follow a specific path to learn more about her mother.
The writing here is simply incredible. Allen invites you into Lucy’s world, showing how a community came together to help raise her when her mother died. The setting in Rockport is drawn with attention and love. From the wildlife and beaches the two friends explore to the community with its open doors, lifelong connections to one another, and always room for Lucy. The sheltering nature of the community make the deep loss all the more shocking and affecting.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel given its attention to detail, meticulous building of a story, and the immediate trust one has in the author. Lucy is an incredible character. She has overcome one loss already, so the next one could maybe break her. Instead, she copes in inventive ways, asks for help and pulls her friends and family closer to her side. The information and connection to sharks is an effective way to allow the story to move forward even as everyone is trapped in their grief.
A brilliant debut that is rich, layered and shows that connection to nature can allow one to weather new storms. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (9780316431248)
When Omu makes her thick red stew in her apartment, its delicious smell brings people to her door to discover what she is cooking. One by one, she feeds each of them some of her stew. There is the little boy, the police officer, the hotdog vendor, and many more. By the time Omu has given each of them a bowl, her large pot of stew is empty and there isn’t any left for her own dinner! Someone once again knocks on her door and it is all of the people she fed that day offering their own thanks and food to share with her.
Mora writes with the feel of a traditional tale. On just the first page, there is a cadence that feels immediately familiar and warm. Details are shared in just the right way, then the repetition kicks in, linking this even more with a traditional folktale. Mora has crafted the book with collage pages that combine different mediums. The stew itself is always red and often flowered. The smell wafts across the page in a swath of light-colored haze. Meanwhile, the vibrant urban community is brought to life and abuzz with energy.
A top read-aloud of the year, this picture book should be shared just like red stew. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, illustrated by Mark Pett (9781419725746)
The very last castle stands in the middle of a small town. No one ever goes into the castle and no one ever comes out. A single guard looks out from the tower. The townspeople can hear noises coming from the castle. Some think it might be monsters, others think it could be giants or snakes. Ibb is a girl who lives in the town and thinks about the castle a lot. One day, she gathers her courage and knocks on the huge castle door, but no one answers and she hears a terrible hiss. Soon afterward, Ibb gets an invitation to appear at the castle gate on Sunday. Ibb goes to the castle and is let inside where she discovers the source of the noises and forms a new connection with the man who lives there.
Jonker’s first picture book is impressive. He uses a traditional picture book tone here built on wonder and curiosity. The incorporation of the various noises that emanate from the castle is a very nice touch, making the book all the more fun to share aloud. His writing is focused and tight and the story can be read both as a straightforward tale but also as an allegory for the walls we build in our lives.
Pett creates a winning young heroine for readers, someone who firmly roots this book in the modern age with her backpack and school days. The juxtaposition between the ancient castle and the young girl works particularly well. The art is playful and the reveal of the interior of the castle is worth the suspense.
A picture book worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac (9781632896339)
This picture book looks at modern life in the Cherokee Nation. Looking at being grateful, the book explores the year and its seasons. Along the way, various Cherokee words are shared with the reader both in English lettering and also in Cherokee syllabary. Throughout the book, a strong connection with nature is shared with buckbrush, cane flutes, wild onions, and large gardens. There is also a clear connection with Cherokee history from the Trail of Tears to family members who have passed on to festivals and memorials. This is a book about community that celebrates the earth, survival, and family.
This is Sorell’s debut picture book. A member of the Cherokee Nation, her prose here reflects her skill as a poet, bringing a soaring feel to the moments she shares. The book ends with a glossary of terms that will inform readers about the connection to things like stickball and gigging. Sorell uses the title phrase of “We are grateful” again and again in the book, creating a rhythmic feel of a traditional tale.
Lessac’s illustrations are done in gouache, creating bright and rich colors that show entire scenes on the page. The greens of nature, the blues of the water and sky, the bursts of color in homes and gardens, all have a great depth of color.
A wonderful modern look at Cherokee traditions and our universal gratitude for community and family. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Africville by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Eva Campbell (9781773060439)
A girl visits the historical site of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She imagines what the community was once like, how the children would play together. She imagines lunch on the tables, picking blueberries over the hill. She imagines playing games, going rafting, and bonfires by the water. Her great-grandmother had lived in Africville before it was destroyed in the 1960s after surviving for over 150 years. But the black community of Africville never received the same services as the rest of Halifax despite paying taxes. The community was eventually relocated from the site and moved to public housing. Africville is now a park where former residents and their descendants return to remember the community that had once stood there.
Grant gives us a glimpse of what Africville once was. The picture book keeps descriptions short and the focus on children and their lives in the community. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that offers more context for what Africville was and what happened to its residents. The use of a modern child to dream about what might have been in Africville is a great lens through which to look at life there. The peacefulness and sense of community pervade the entire read.
Campbell’s illustrations are filled with deep colors. The bonfire pages glow with reds of fire and sunset. There is lush green everywhere and the houses pop with bright paint colors. She creates the warmth of a real community on the pages, illustrations that seem to have sunlight shining from them.
A gorgeous tribute to a piece of Canadian history. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali, illustrated by Maria Dek (9781616896997)
One morning, Mouse wakes up and wants an omelet for breakfast. The trouble is, he doesn’t have an egg. So he asks the blackbird for an egg. Blackbird has flour, but no egg perhaps they could make a cake instead! The two set off to find an egg, and along the way, they gather more and more animals and ingredients. The dormouse has butter. Mole has sugar. Hedgehog has apples. Raccoon has cinnamon. Lizard has raisins. And finally, Bat has an egg! Owl lets them bake the cake in her oven. But when the divvying up of the cake comes into question, does Mouse get anything? After all, she didn’t really contribute something. Or did she?
This book is a clever riff on Stone Soup where everyone’s contributions come together to make something much more special. It uses repetition very nicely to give it a distinct folklore flavor. The final question of whether Mouse gets a slice of cake for initiating the idea and the entire process is an interesting one. The end will satisfy everyone except maybe hungry children who will want some apple cake themselves.
The illustrations add to the folklore appeal with their friendly animals and forest setting that is whimsically depicted. Each animal has their own personality and feel thanks to the illustrations and the way they appear on the page.
A great read-aloud choice that would pair well with autumn stories about apples and baking. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay (9781773061382)
Mustafa and his family had to leave their country and traveled a long way to reach their new home. Sometimes Mustafa dreams of where they used to live, dreams of fire, smoke and noise. Then his mother shows him the moon, the same moon that shines over both of their homes. Mustafa’s apartment is above a green park. In the park, Mustafa sees a girl walking a cat on a ribbon, but when she speaks he can’t understand her. The next day, Mustafa is back in the park drawing what he saw in his last home. The girl comes to draw with him and soon her butterflies and flowers overtake his burning buildings and broken trees. Mustafa keeps going to the park, but no one else approaches him. He begins to wonder if he’s invisible. Then once again the same girl sees him. They feed the fish in the fountain together and swing high side-by-side. Then they learn one another’s names.
Gay tells the story of a child refugee in way that shows the dangers and oppression of his past in ways that children will understand. He experiences them in dark dreams and in drawing his experiences and fears in the dirt. At the same time, this does not minimize his past at all. The language barriers are also fully explored here as well as the isolation that child refugees can feel in their new society. It is a book that avoids being didactic about what children should do and instead shows what a single kindness can create in another’s life.
The illustrations have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom that resonates with the story being told. They are done in pastel colors that then move on the vibrancy of autumn. Skilled use of watercolors gives a sense of motion and change on the page as well as the feeling that there are possibilities waiting to be discovered.
A warm look at welcoming refugee families to their new home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup (9781680100945)
This picture book provides a moving look at our interconnected nature around the world. The text is poetic and flowing while the illustrations show animals from different regions and climates. Everyone lives under the same sky, loves in the same way. We play the same games, sing the same songs. We all face challenges and dream big dreams. Through the clever use of cutouts on the pages and dramatic page turns, this picture book is simple and stirring.
Teckentrup excels at creating picture books with unique elements. Here she uses page cutouts to glimpse the beginning of each stanza, tying the different parts of the world even more firmly together. The text is simple and straightforward. It is the illustrations that really shine, showing all sorts of animals living and loving together no matter where they live. The art has a gorgeous light and depth to it, filled with moonlight, sunshine and even the pastels of dawn.
A lovely and simple look at our interconnected world. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
We Are All Me by Jordan Crane (9781943145355)
Released on September 4, 2018.
This bright picture book celebrates the many ways that we are all connected to one another. We are all alive in the same world made up of cloud, water and air, earth, sunshine and plants. We are made of bone and meat, our hearts all beat. We are all made of cells and atoms. And we are all alive and aware, all of us together.
Inspired by an idea his wife had for a holiday called Interdependence Day, this book takes a simple concept and looks deeply at it. The text stays simple but asks readers to think about connectedness in our lives. The text is simple enough to be a poem, using internal rhymes and some repetition to carry it forward. The illustrations use bright colors and pop-art style to invite readers into the rainbow that we all are inside.
Unusual and intriguing, this picture book will be beloved by those who see their own take on human connection on the page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Toon Books.