Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (9781643750057)
Badger loves living alone in the big house where Aunt Lula lets him stay. He has turned the living room into a rock room for his Important Rock Work. There he spends many hours quietly absorbed in his work, identifying rocks and minerals. Then one day, Skunk arrives. Skunk refuses to stay more than one night in the guest closet and instead takes over Badger’s box room, making it into his bedroom. He too has been invited to stay by Aunt Lula. Skunk makes large breakfasts that make Badger full and happy until Badger is asked to do the washing up. But then things really go wrong when Skunk invites the chickens over. Soon a stoat is after the chickens, Badger is accidentally sprayed with skunk spray, and Badger says some horrible things to Skunk that cause him to leave. Now Badger is alone again, but not quite so happily as before.
Cracking this book open and reading the first page will have even the most jaded readers of children’s books realizing that they are reading a new classic. The book reads aloud beautifully, the pacing just right for sharing. The humor throughout is just the right mix of broad comedy and quieter silly moments. Add in the touching realizations that Badger has throughout the book as he becomes a much better roommate and friend, and you have a book with merriment, silliness and heart.
Klassen’s illustrations are marvelous, conveying differences between the two characters clearly. From the glowering Badger to the beaming Skunk, you could not have two small furry animals more different than these two. Add in a rocket potato, lots of chickens and exploring a new/old neighborhood, and there is plenty of humor and charm in these illustrations.
Funny, friendly and furry. Exactly what you want in a new classic to share aloud. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin Young Readers.
The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder (9780735230507)
When he was born, Terrance came out without a shell. So his parents gave him a box instead. Terrance loved his box shell. It fit just right, kept him dry, safe and protected. He could even share it with his best friend, a hermit crab. But when Terrance met some other turtles, they mocked his box. So he set out to find a better shell option. He tried all sorts of new “shell” like mail boxes, window boxes, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, and even a treasure chest, but nothing worked. When his best friend offered up his own shell, Terrance realized that everyone was more than their shells. So he went back to his beloved box, which had seen some wear and tear itself. With some help from his friends and family, they transformed it into exactly what Terrance was looking for.
Told with plenty of humor, including some bare turtle bottoms, this picture book embraces being different. It also looks at how casual cruel statements can impact a person, until their self-esteem repairs enough to stand strong once again. The art is done with speech bubbles and some framing that makes it feel a bit like a graphic novel but with a softness and pastel colors that keep it very friendly for small children.
Full of resilience and tenacity, this picture book will have you thinking inside the box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
The Peculiar Pig by Joy Steuerwald (9780399548871)
Penny is an unusual pig, since she’s actually a dachshund puppy. She doesn’t get bigger like her pig siblings, instead she gets longer. She’s different in other ways too, like her bark compared to their oinks. But her mother pig loves her just the same as her litter mates. When the piglets root in the mud, Penny digs with her paws instead. Penny also prefers to practice her barking instead of playing in mud puddles. Her piglet siblings teased her about how different she is, but Penny just kept being herself. Then one day, a snake appeared in the barnyard and suddenly Penny started growling and barking. She chased that snake away! Her own unique abilities saved the day.
Steuerwald has written a lovely little picture book about the value of being yourself and your own peculiar traits being your strengths. She nicely skirts the impact of bullying, keeping the piglets from being too aggressive, instead focusing on Penny and her personal gifts. The writing and story is told briskly and with a directness that will work well with small children.
The artwork is particularly captivating with each of the pigs unique from one another as well as from Penny, of course. The small brown dog stands out on the page against the pink and black piglets. The bright eyes and smiling mouths of the different animals make for a happy tone throughout the book.
Embrace your differences with this neat little picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am Small by Qin Leng (9781525301155)
Mimi is very small for her age. She’s the shortest in her class at school and the shortest in her family too. Mimi thinks about all of the problems with being the shortest, like viewing pastries in the bakery or being unable to write higher on the blackboard. Her friends see it differently. They point out that she wins at hide-and-seek, that she gets to be first in line at lunch and gets the biggest piece of cake. At home there are advantages too. Mimi can fit between Mom and Dad in their bed, she can swim in the bathtub, and she can even ride on the back of their dog! So when someone even small than Mimi joins the family, Mimi knows just what to say.
Leng has illustrated many several books for children and this is her first time authoring a book. She has created an ode to the challenges and beauty of being small that children on the small side will easily relate to. As the book progresses, Mimi’s tone about her size changes to a much more positive one, just in time for her new little brother to appear. There is a focus on self-acceptance in this picture book that will shine no matter what your size.
Leng’s illustrations are whimsical and fresh. In Mimi, she has created a wonderfully androgynous little girl grappling with her size. Leng populates her pages with small touches and details that bring her scenes to life. Just the feel of characters clothing and the play of movement on the page are special.
A book about self-esteem that proves that size doesn’t matter. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Giraffe Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781524772048)
Edward the giraffe hates his long neck. It’s ridiculously long and bendy. There’s no other animal with a neck like his and he just wishes it was more normal. He has tried hiding his neck under scarves and bushes, high water and trees, but nothing works. All of the other animals just stare at him, noticing his neck all of the time. Then one evening, Edward meets Cyrus, a turtle. Cyrus loves Edward’s long bendy neck and asks for Edward’s help in fetching a high banana from a tree. The two end up praising each other’s necks and figuring out that a different perspective is very helpful, particularly if bow ties are involved.
From the team that created Penguin Problems, this picture book has a great mix of humor and empathy. The writing is pitch perfect, told in the voices of Edward and Cyrus directly. Edward’s worries about his neck are presented in a conversational tone that begs to be shared aloud. Cyrus’ voice is entirely different, offering lengthy monologues about bananas but then shifting to become conversational too.
Smith’s art is textural with graphical elements that are compelling. The characters stand out strongly against the light background that hints at bright sun. Visual humor adds to the silliness of the book, creating just the right balance. The book uses different page turns and perspectives that make for a dynamic read.
A great read-aloud pick for any stories about self-esteem or giraffes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534413627)
Stumpkin is one of the pumpkins for sale outside a little shop in the big city. He is a nearly perfect pumpkin. He is bright orange, round and large. Unfortunately though, Stumpkin is missing his stem and only has a little stump instead. As Halloween grows closer, one pumpkin after another is selected to be turned into a jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood. They are placed up in apartment windows and look down at the little shop below. Even the gourd is selected before Stumpkin, leaving him all alone. But there is a happy Halloween ending to come!
Cummins’ story written in a simple style. She shows the difference between Stumpkin and the others, explaining why he is left behind. Children listening to the story will protest that they would pick Stumpkin first since he is so lovely. The feeling of being different and left out builds as the story moves ahead and Stumpkin is left alone and sad. The simple art adds to the appeal of the book with its bright oranges, black cat and jack-o-lantern grins. It is impressive how much emotion she can convey with a few dots and lines on a round pumpkin.
Perfect pumpkin pick for those looking for non-scary Halloween and autumn tales. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood (9780544868427, Amazon)
Lee is a pea and all of his friends are peas too. Except for Colin. Colin is a carrot. Colin is very different from the peas. He’s not the same green color. He doesn’t roll around like they do. He can’t really bounce and he can’t play hide-and-seek. But Colin is good at other things. He can be a slide for the peas to roll down. He can serve as a tower or a bridge. It’s because he is different that Lee loves him and so do all the other peas.
Hood takes a look at differences here in her very simple prose and while she points them out there is no sense at any time that Colin the carrot is misunderstood or left out. Instead the differences are pointed out and then embraced by the entire group. This ends up being a celebration of our differences and a look at how by being unique people provide new ideas for their community.
The illustrations are collaged out of plastic grocery bags. They have a wonderful texture to them that is very similar to crepe paper and their vibrant color adds to the appeal. The rows and rows of peas look out from the page, sometimes expressionless and other times very playful.
Great for even the littlest of children, this simple book on differences is as delicious as peas and carrots. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Paul and Antoinette by Kerascoët (InfoSoup)
Paul and Antoinette may be brother and sister, but they don’t enjoy doing the same things. Sometimes that works out perfectly, like after breakfast when Paul neatens up and Antoinette licks the knives and plates clean as she clears the table. Antoinette wants to spend the day outside in the mud but Paul has other plans, like working on his model ship. When Antoinette sees her chance, she drags him outside with her, even though she knows that Paul doesn’t like the outdoors that much. The two play just as differently outside with Paul picking flowers for Japanese flower arranging and Antoinette licking snails. When they return home, Paul has to clean up and Antoinette is covered in mud. At the very end of the day though, Antoinette makes the type of mess that even Paul can enjoy.
Kerascoët is from France and is a well-known and award-winning illustrator. This picture book has a distinct European vibe that is completely charming. The two siblings demonstrate that being different from one another works when you accept that you won’t be changing each other. While they don’t always get along, the two respect one another and play together for most of the day. This isn’t about sibling rivalry at all; it’s about sharing, loving and accepting one another.
Kerascoët’s art is warm and delightful. There is a sense of humor throughout as the two pigs show just how clean one can stay outside and just how dirty you can get in the same trip. The moment where Antoinette licks the snail is wonderful and squidgy, vividly depicted on the page. When she plays with a cobweb beard that she puts on her brother, it is wonderfully sticky and itchy.
A book sure to create laughter, gasps and delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The author of One for the Murphys returns with a brilliant second novel. Ally hates school. She’d much rather spend her days drawing the vivid pictures in her head. Homework is almost impossible for her, since she has such trouble reading. To cover up her problems, she uses her disruptions and gets sent to the principal’s office often. When Ally gets a new teacher though, things start to change. Mr. Daniels can see who she is under the reading and writing problems, offering her compliments about the way she thinks and the way she draws. As Ally gets more confident, she just might be brave enough to ask for the help she needs rather than hiding and trying to be invisible.
Hunt writes with a light touch, never negating the powerful feelings that Ally is wrestling with and how serious her issues are. Yet it is that soft touch that allows the book to be so effective in its approach to dyslexia and the variations in the ways different brains think. Throughout the book, there is hope and readers will yearn to have Ally recognized as the bright and funny person they now her to be. Hunt also incorporates a bully who is intelligently drawn with just a glimpse as to why she is that way and who is just cruel and mean enough to be realistic.
Ally is a wonderful protagonist. She doesn’t hide her difficulties from herself at all, but works so hard to hide them from everyone else in her life, something she can achieve because she is so bright. Throughout Ally is immensely likable, someone who would make a tremendous friend. I love that she does not become this as the novel moves on, but she is already there, just waiting for others to discover her behind the barriers she puts up. The two characters who become her close friends are also strongly written and unique voices too, adding depth and diversity to the story.
An incredibly strong novel, this one belongs in every library and will be inspiring to students and teachers alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.