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

Cover image for Mr. Brown’s Bad Day

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

Cover image of Little Wise Wolf

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.

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (9781419746550)

Every Wednesday, a group of people come together in a little kitchen to cook together. They put on aprons, roll up their sleeves, heat up the oven. Then they start to look for ingredients, things they have grown or kept or purchased. Day-old bread from the bakery is given a little time in the oven and comes out new. Apples with bruises are still good and make an amazing apple crumble. Beans and vegetables mix and stew into a chili. Soon the dining room is filling up and time is running out. The food hits the table and is served to those waiting in line, neighbors in need. Conversations happen around the room, second helpings are offered and everyone leaves warm and full. Then it’s clean up time!

Based on her own work in a community kitchen, where there is sometimes plenty of ingredients and other times just enough to scrape into a meal. This picture book shows the hard work and dedication of a group of volunteers working to feed their neighbors with food and with kindness. The pace is brisk and busy, each person working on their own dish that comes together as a harmonious meal at the end. There is no chef bossing people around, but instead a shared effort that is so uplifting.

Tamaki’s art fills the pages with a diverse group of neighbors who work together. Young readers will enjoy watching a little boy who comes along with his mother to help. The busy kitchen moves across the pages with energy. Beans, bread, apples and more stream across the pages, sometimes lifting the workers right off their feet. The end pages contain visual recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble.

Positive and kind, this is a community kitchen that everyone will want to join. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

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.