3 New Picture Books Brimming with Self Esteem

I Can Be Anything! Don_t Tell Me I Can_t by Diane Dillon

I Can Be Anything! Don’t Tell Me I Can’t by Diane Dillon (9781338166903)

Zoe says that she can be anything she wants to be, like a bird flying up high. But she also has a little voice that asks what happens if she falls. Time and again, Zoe states her dream and why it will work but the little voice is still there asking nagging questions and inserting doubt. Zoe dreams of being a scientist or a veterinarian or a musician or President. Still, that voice comments on each of those dreams. Each time though, Zoe responds or ignores the voice until it can’t answer anymore. This picture book shows how to push through personal doubts and follow your dreams, whatever they may be.

This is Dillon’s first solo picture book since the death of her husband. The insidious little voice that we all have is nicely drawn here, so that everyone can relate to the messages it gives. Zoe’s inherent enthusiasm and pride in herself are not cut down even though she has doubts. The focus on learning, science, arts and reading is strong in this book. Dillon’s illustrations are beautifully done, featuring Zoe and her dreams becoming reality on each page. A winning look at resilience and empowerment, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Blue Sky Press.)

Natsumi by Susan Lendroth

Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (9780399170904)

Natsumi is a little girl with lots of exuberance in everything she does. She moves fast, plays hard and makes a lot of noise. When her family starts to prepare for a festival featuring traditional Japanese arts, Natsumi struggles to figure out where she fits in. She moves too fast for flower arranging. She stirs the tea too hard in the tea ceremony. She is too loud for the dance routine. Her grandfather though has an idea of where she might fit right in, but it’s a secret until the festival.

This fast-paced picture book suits its subject just right. Filled with noise and action, the story shows a dynamic little girl who just can’t slow down, be quiet or be gentle. The repetition of those elements strengthens the structure of the book. The solution the grandfather comes up with is just right and offers a real way that Natsumi can be herself and still participate. The illustrations are just as bright and vivid as Natsumi herself, filled with color, movement and smiles. A book that celebrates individuality. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Penguin Random House.)

Petra by Marianna Coppo

Petra by Marianna Coppo (9780735262676)

Petra is an enormous boulder, one that is unmovable, visited by others, a magnificent mountain that has been there since ancient times. Or is she? When a dog comes along, the perspective changes and suddenly Petra is much more of a pebble size. Petra thinks that maybe she isn’t even a rock at all, perhaps she is an egg instead! What could she hatch into? When she is tossed into a pool of water, Petra again dreams of how very large she is as an island. But once again is picked up and taken away, this time by a girl who paints Petra. Who knows what she may become tomorrow!

Coppo’s book is a skilled look at perspective in two ways. First in the changing perspective as Petra seems large and then small, larger and then smaller again. Second in Petra’s own shifting perspective about who and what she is and could be. It’s an adroit combination of themes that support one another very successfully and is vastly appealing. The art style adds to that appeal with Petra’s expressions changing as her perspective shifts. The art is simple, focusing primarily on Petra herself in all of her imaginative glory. Rock on! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (9780553535327)

Ami has grown up on Culion, an island in the Philippines filled with people who have leprosy, like Ami’s mother. Ami loves her home, the others who live there with her, the kind nun who helps everyone out. But then things change and new government rules are implemented. Ami and her mother must be tested to see if Ami is also “Touched” with the infection. When Ami is declared to be free of leprosy, she is taken with the other children to a neighboring island and placed in an orphanage. Watched over by a cruel man who is terrified of disease and by extension hates the children from Culion, Ami slowly makes new friends, longing for news from home. After finding a letter withheld from her, Ami makes a desperate journey to see her mother once more.

Using butterflies as a beautiful metaphor throughout the book, one of strength and fragility, Hargrave has crafted a book that looks past the surface level of leprosy and deeply at the people who suffer from the infection and those who love them. Throughout the book, butterflies emerge from cocoons, appear suddenly and inspire those who see them, die at the hands of a collector, and eventually form a way of life. There is a resilience throughout this novel, a tale of overcoming not leprosy but expectations and limitations of all sorts.

The setting of Culion and the Philippines is brought lushly to life on the pages. From journeys through the jungle with its fruits, fish and streams to the coral reefs that tear at boats to the colony itself, each place is drawn with care. The setting is evoked through sounds, scents and sight.

A complex book that takes a deep look at grief, loss, courage and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (9780545722889, Amazon)

La Paz is a village ringing with sound and singing; it’s noisy and bustling. But sometimes it’s a bit too loud, maybe some quiet would help. So the old mayor is sent away and a new mayor is elected. Don Pepe promises a quieter life, but his rules and laws start to become stifling and soon the village is silent. Then a rooster and his hen and chicks arrive. The rooster greets the day with a song right under the mayor’s window. As the mayor struggles to control one rooster and his singing by taking away more and more of his rights, the village begins to realize what they have given up.

Deedy, a Pura Belpre Honor winner for writing, has written a wonderfully readable tale that offers a folktale feel with a modern sensibility. This is exactly the picture book and fable that is needed in our society right now. It clearly speaks to the power of civil disobedience and the crucial need to even one voice to speak up, singing for themselves and the entire world.

Yelchin’s illustrations are rather zany, using bright colors and zigging lines. The rooster has a gorgeous nobility about him, piercingly straight and colorful on the page. He almost glows. In contrast, Don Pepe is colorless and drab, bringing gray onto the page along with him. His only change is to turn a sickly green as he is stood up to by the rooster.

Strong, vital and important, this picture book is a great pick to read aloud and discuss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Nope! by Drew Sheneman

nope-by-drew-sheneman

Nope! by Drew Sheneman (9781101997314)

This almost-wordless picture book is about a little bird who just isn’t sure he can fly quite yet. Told in a graphic-novel style, the story revolves around a caring mother bird and her very nervous offspring. When he looks over the side of the nest, he is frightened by how high it is. When he glances down again though, he has filled it with all sorts of imaginary threats. One time there are wolves circling below. Another time a hungry cat is hiding near the base of the tree. Or maybe alligators and water? The mother bird is patient to a point and then takes matters into her own hands, with plenty of love.

Sheneman’s book is told almost entirely in images. He has a great sense of timing that creates a bouncing rhythm to the book. The action moves from the mother bird encouraging flight, a frightened reaction with a strong “Nope!” and then back to nurturing again. The mother bird has a face that conveys her patience, love and her complete understanding of the situation. The little bird’s fright is also obviously conveyed on his face, moving to panic rapidly.

Funny, wordless and entirely engaging. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

 

10 Great Picture Books on Courage

As the next four years go by, we will all need to be brave. Brave enough to stand up when others are in trouble, brave enough to speak up even when our voices shake, brave enough to love those who don’t agree with us. Here are some picture books to inspire:

13269821 The Knowing Book

Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by  Matthew Cordell

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats Nightsong

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif

Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long

26074148 The Promise

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

7171644 7939746

The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy by Kitty Griffin, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Running with the Horses by Alison Lester

The Wren and the Sparrow 23108939

The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke

Review: You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke

you can do it bert

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke (InfoSoup)

Bert is ready, he knows just what to do.  He approaches the end of the branch, and… decides he needs a running start. Here he comes! Wait, he’s got a banana for a snack. He looks over the edge again and after a little yelling from the narrator in encouragement, he dashes right off the end of the branch! He’s worried on the way down, down, down until he hits the water. The other birds are right there saying they always knew he could do it and together they head up to jump off again.

This wonderful twist on a first flight book will take children by surprise. The book captures the dread and then the wonder of taking a plunge in life, literally. Children who are trying new things will find encouragement in this little orange bird who has enough personality for multiple books. Throughout the text is spare and told in the voice of an observing narrator, who uses all sorts of tones to encourage the little bird on his way. This makes for a great read aloud.

The art too is simple and bright. Most of it is Bert alone on the one branch, with plenty of white space around him. Readers will envision right from the beginning Bert launching into that blankness and flying off. It is the space around the illustrations that help with the subtle deception and assumptions. It’s cleverly designed and will work well with groups of children thanks to its large format and clarity.

Great read aloud and a great addition to story times and units on taking risks. It will also make a great one to mix into books on flying! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

scaredy squirrel goes camping

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is back!  This time he wants to stay far away from camping outside, much happier to watch a TV show ABOUT camping.  Unfortunately though, he needs to plug his TV in for it to work.  So he has to find an electrical outlet which means heading outside and into the campground.  As always, Scaredy plans his trip carefully.  He lists what he is scared of, packs important survival supplies, picks out a wilderness outfit to keep himself safe from things like nasty odors and bugs, and has a map of his mission timed to the minute.  But things do not go as planned, showing Scaredy that sometimes it’s not about the plan itself but the journey on which it takes you.

Watt has a wonderful comedic timing that she displays in all of her Scaredy Squirrel and Chester books.  It is all about those moments of hesitation that make the humor all the more funny.  Scaredy is a great character with his obsessive planning and worrying.  Many children will see themselves in Scaredy and also be able to see the humor as well.  As always, the illustrations are clear, clean and add to the fun.

Another great book in a strong series, this one is perfectly timed for spring and summer camp outs.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

Review: Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka

everyone can learn to ride a bicycle

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka

The two-time Caldecott Medalist returns with another exceptional picture book.  In this book, a little girl learns to ride a bike.  She first picks out the bike she wants to try, then watches other people ride their bikes.  The training wheels are very helpful, keeping her upright and they steadily are moved upward so that she can start to balance on her own.  Training wheels off, she tries riding in the grass but when she heads down a small hill, she tips over.  It takes a lot of courage to get back on again and again and again after tumbling off.  But then, suddenly and incredibly, she learns to ride a bicycle on her own!

Written in second-person, the book really allows readers to see themselves as the one riding the bicycle.  Raschka’s text is simple and effective, encouraging readers to give it a try.  When the tumbling begins, Raschka starts talking about courage, sure to inspire young readers to see that quality in themselves both in learning to ride a bicycle and in other endeavors too.  As always, the art is the key with Raschka’s picture books.  His style is loose and flowing, capturing movement and wobbles with easy watercolor strokes. 

A great pick for spring when children are sure to be longing to be out playing in the warmer weather, this book is a quietly inspiring read.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert

mouse and lion

Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert

This classic Aesop fable is told with exceptional ease.  The story focuses more on Mouse than other versions, even giving him top billing in the title.  Mouse scampers right over Lion before he even realizes he is not a mountain.  And as the tale goes, Lion grants Mouse a reprieve from being eaten and sends him on his way.  In this story, Lion is captured in a hunter’s net and Mouse gnaws him free.  Set in Africa, this story features a four-striped African grass mouse rather than the expected little brown mouse.  Combined with the baobab trees, it all works to evoke Africa completely. 

Burkert’s text is beautifully done.  At first blush, his writing reads aloud so well that it seems simple.  But instead it is just written by a storyteller, who realizes exactly how words play and how to create a mood.  When Lion has captured Mouse, there is a gorgeous moment when Burkert leaves Mouse literally dangling:

Mouse spun slowly as he dangled.  He dangled as he spun.  He squinted into Lion’s mouth, feeling his warm breath, noting his yellowed teeth.

This is just one of many such times when the writing sings, the moment stretches, and the story is illuminated. 

Add to this skilled writing, the illustrations and you have quite the book.  The illustrations are strong at the same time they are delicate.  Done with fine lines, each hair on the animals is individual.  Mouse’s nose and whiskers seem to twitch.  Lion seems to snore.  There is life here in these illustrations, life that moves and breathes.  The illustrations are captivating.

Who would think that after last year’s Caldecott Award winner, libraries would want another version of Aesop’s fable.  They definitely should get this one with its beautiful combination of writing and illustration.  It too is a winner.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by Cracking the Cover.