Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena M. Pliska, illustrated by Fiona Halliday (9781624149313)
Caterpillar’s entire world is filled with green after he leaves his egg. Then something orange arrives, soaring high above. Caterpillar calls out to the flying orange thing, but it doesn’t stop. Later, Orange lands nearby to sip nectar from a flower. Caterpillar is eating a leaf nearby. The two spend time together, Orange talking about how they used to feel as a caterpillar and Caterpillar longing to be more like Orange someday. Orange tells all sorts of stories of the things they have seen as they fly. Soon it is time for Caterpillar to form their chrysalis. Orange explains that they won’t be here when Caterpillar emerges. Once caterpillar emerges, they too are a monarch butterfly and are ready to inspire another tiny caterpillar on their journey.
Pliska writes with a tenderness in this picture book. Her words look at the wonder of a new world filled with green leaves and the promise of eventual flight. She creates a natural connection between the two characters who clearly enjoy their shared company. The beauty of the change from caterpillar to butterfly plays out against the sadness of Orange not being there. These quiet and aching moments create quite a special book.
The illustrations in this book are done in traditional and digital mixed media. The colors are so vivid and deep. They are large enough to work well with a group, focusing on the bright colors of the caterpillar and butterfly and also the greens and blues of their surroundings.
A marvelous book about butterflies, their life cycle and the circle of life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.
An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (9781481472623)
It was an ordinary day in an ordinary neighborhood, but two of the houses across the street were unusually quiet. A car pulled up to each of the houses. A doctor got out of each of the cars and each entered a different house. Outside, life in the neighborhood continued to be ordinary. Inside though, it was different. In the house on the left, a golden retriever was on a bed surrounded by her family. Soft music played. In the house on the right, a woman rested on a bed with her family around her and soft music playing. Both doctors say “She is ready” and start to help. One family says goodbye to a beloved pet while another greets a new member of their family. All part of an ordinary and extraordinary day.
This is a gentle and quiet book that looks deeply at both tragic and joyous moments in our regular everyday lives. The pairing of the two together is what makes this book truly sing. The two stories dance together, moving in concert with one another until they diverge in major and minor keys. Arnold’s writing is steady and strong, offering a foundation for these large emotions to build upon. Yet she also soars as appropriate with the moment.
Vukovic’s illustrations are light and airy, almost ready to float off the page. Done in charcoal, pastel, watercolor, ink and digitally, the art is filled with soft colors that mist and cloud across the page. The diverse neighborhood shines here, on an ordinary day.
Beautifully illustrated and written, this quiet book about death and life is a gem. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (9781616208967)
San Antonio is not a comfortable place for the Torres sisters. Their mother died giving birth to Rosa, the youngest sister, and their father never recovered from her death, drowning his feelings in drink. When the oldest sister, Ana falls from her window and dies, it takes a great toll on the entire family. A year later, the cracks are beginning to become even larger. Their father is rarely home and when he is he is verbally abusive, demanding, and drunk. Jessica, who got Ana’s bedroom and clothes, mourns her sister by dating the same boy she did. The relationship is violent and controlling, but Jessica can’t seem to move on. Iridian has stopped going to school, reads the same book over and over again, and writes her own stories. She finds herself caught indoors, unwilling to leave their horrible house. Rosa seeks the hyena that is loose in their neighborhood, wondering what special gift she might have and searching for it outside and in religion. The girls all want to escape, and it may just take Ana returning as a ghost to get them free.
Mabry’s novel is exceptional. Her writing is achingly beautiful, telling a story of profound grief and pain. Yet throughout, each of the sisters has bursts of hope, their own unique way forward potentially, if they could just take it. It’s tantalizing writing that creates its own unique emotional tug and writing that offers gem-like moments of clarity before succumbing under the weight of grief once more. The flashes of anger are like lightning on the page, bursts where one thinks things are about to change.
The sisters are all wonderfully crafted and unique from one another. The interplay of their relationships feels like sisterhood, lifting one another up unexpectedly, injuring each other inadvertently and fighting like hell to save the others.
A great teen novel about sisterhood, grief and ghosts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin.
All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)
Originally published in 2009, this award-winning Swedish import is written by the author of the Detective Gordon series. One summer day, Esther found a dead bumblebee and decided to give it a burial ceremony. The narrator of the story, a little boy, helps her by writing a poem about death. The two head out to the secret clearing to dig a grave and plant seeds. Then they set out to find more dead creatures with the help of Puttie, who was a very good crier. They form a business called Funerals, Ltd. and spend their day doing a variety of funerals for animals of all sorts, all in their secret clearing. The final funeral of their day comes when a blackbird hits a window and dies in front of them. They all felt the sadness of that death. And then the next day, they did something different.
I adore Nilsson’s approach to children’s book with his deep understanding of the way that children think and act. This book feels like my childhood, dealing with deep and serious thought one day and moving on. It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.
The illustrations by Eriksson really add to the mix of sorrow and sunshine. They are dappled green and gold. Children will appreciate that the dead animals are shown to the reader, tucked into their boxes or on their way to being buried. The final pages with all of the headstones and graves are both humorous and touching.
Funny and serious, just like childhood. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Gecko Press.
Layoverland by Gabby Noone (9781984836120)
Anyone who has ever taken an airplane can completely get behind purgatory being an airport. Still, it is surprising when Bea finds herself first in a car crash and then waking up in an airplane. When Bea discovers she is in purgatory, she wonders why she hasn’t gone straight to hell after the way she treated her sister just before Bea died. Unfortunately, Bea has been selected for a special program where she is removed from the lottery of names to make their way to Heaven and must help 5000 people find their way to Heaven before she can leave the airport. She gets to wear a hideous orange outfit and then is assigned to help the boy who killed her through to Heaven. Now she has to decide whether to help him or keep him in purgatory with her. The choice gets a lot more difficult when she finds out how much fun it is to kiss him and that she just might be falling for him. This may be Hell after all.
Noone’s writing is deft and exactly on the mark, making this novel’s tone just right. The entire purgatory experience is marvelous with showers that don’t have hot water, food encased in jello, and no Internet or real TV. Throw in a girl who can’t wash the mascara drips from her face or wash her dirty hair, and you have a great recipe for a book. When Caleb enters the novel, readers will respond like Bea, not sure whether to detest him or adore him. Their banter is right on, with Bea often offering her own large opinions on things like mansplaining and high school.
With a concept and writing this good, it is great to have characters this well drawn too. Bea is angry in a way that will speak to all teenage girls. She cares deeply, yet also doesn’t give a crap a lot of the time too. She is manipulative, something which comes in handy with convincing people to open up to her so they can move on to Heaven. The added pressure of the 5,000 lives she must help is twisted and bizarre, giving her just enough room to both care and not care at the same time.
Hilarious, romantic and never dull, this novel is heavenly. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor (9780062796783)
Lydia was with her mother as she died and soon after is moving to rural Connecticut to live with her Aunt Brat, her wife and their elderly landlord. Lydia brings with her a box of the goddesses that she and her mother created together as they faced the good and bad in their life. She keeps them hidden from Aunt Brat and everyone at her new home, looking for a private place to hang them in honor of her mother. On the weekend after Lydia moves in, the family also adopts a big yellow dog. Lydia isn’t a dog person, having never lived with one, particularly one this large and untrained. Still, Lydia pitches in to help, something that she does a lot with a chirpy voice that doesn’t seem to belong to her. It helps her also cover up secrets like the growing hole in her wall, a tag that might help them find the yellow dog’s new owner, and even a secret of Aunt Brat’s about baby goats.
Connor’s books are always surprising in the best way. She takes very interesting characters and throws them together here in a new family with a new dog and plenty to hide. The result is a book that untangles itself slowly, revealing new truths and interesting hiding places along the way. The setting of rural Connecticut plays a large role in the story, inviting readers to explore the hills and valleys filled with farms and fields.
The characters, both human and dog, are exceptionally well drawn. No secondary character is left without a deeper story, and this is done without crowding the main story out. Still, it is Lydia’s story and she is far more than a tragic orphan who has lost her mother. Instead, she is resilient and hard working, willing to always pitch in to help. As she literally grapples with having a new dog in her life, she is also working on new human friends, fitting into a new family, and finding her way forward with new people to love.
Full of dogs, warmth and love, this is another great read from a talented author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden by Heather Smith, illustrated by Rachel Wada (9781459821033)
Makio loved spending time with his neighbor, Mr. Hirota in his garden that looked down upon the harbor. He could see his father at work along the shore. Then one day, the tsunami came. It took away Makio’s father and Mr. Hirota’s daughter. Everyone in the village lost someone that day. Silence descended upon the town along with their grief. A noise came that was Mr. Hirota building a phone book in his garden. A phone booth with an old-fashioned phone and no wires connecting it anywhere. Painted white, the booth gave the mourners an opportunity to reconnect with their lost family members, sharing their days from a phone booth on the hill overlooking the harbor.
This picture book is based on a true story of a Japanese man who built a phone booth in his garden to speak with his dead brother, which was then used by thousands of mourners in Osaka to speak to their dead relatives after the tsunami. The tale here is told with a deep grace and empathy that shines on every page. The dramatic impact of the wave both on the land and on the people who live there is shown clearly. The grief afterwards is palpable on the page too.
The illustrations were inspired by Japanese traditional techniques using watercolors, black ink and pencils as well as digital assembly. The resulting images are filled with a powerful mix of light and dark with the black ink giving a dramatic and strong impact.
A beautiful and aching story of loss and community. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Dig by A. S. King (9781101994917)
Meet five teenagers who either barely know one another or don’t know each other at all, but all are from the same broken family. It’s a family where the roots run deep into potato farming and racism. It’s a family broken by high expectations, greed, and an inability to connect. Each of the teens carries their own moniker other than their first name. There is the Freak, a girl who can flicker from one place in the world to another. The Shoveler is a boy with big secrets to tell. CanIHelpYou? works at a drive through, selling more than burgers and fries to her customers. Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress lives in a family of violence and hunger, but has her own flea circus at least. First-Class Malcolm lives with his father who is dying of cancer and jets back and forth to Jamaica. Each teen carries so much weight, so much dirt with them, and yet there is hope if they can just dig deep.
I won’t lie, this is one tough book. King wrestles with the issues, choices and lives faced by teens in the modern world. They are lives embittered by racism, poverty, drugs, violence, and lies. Still, as the reader gets to know each teen, there is grace beneath all of these layers of family crap and expectations. There is responsibility too, responsibility to be different than the previous generation and make better choices for themselves and their families.
I also won’t lie about the fact that this is a very important book. It looks at racism with an eye towards white people taking responsibility for their history, for their current state, for making assumptions, relying on friends of color for cover, and for not being allies in a real way. It lays all of that bare, insisting that the characters and readers take action in their lives to remedy things, to speak of the unspoken, to insist on change happening. So this tough read is filled just enough light through the muck of life.
A great teen novel full of depth with a strong voice and a definitely point of view. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.