Review: A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker (9780763665968)

A wordless picture book, this tells the story of a girl’s first summer without her beloved dog at her side. As the family heads off on their camping trip, she finds herself on the lake shore alone. She starts skipping stones and as one sinks, the story turns to one of a crashing meteor and dinosaurs. From that meteor comes a rock that moves through time, starting as a large rough chunk of stone and becoming smaller and smaller as it is redesigned. It is the heart of a large statue, the keystone in an arch for a bridge, an elaborate treasure box, and then it sinks beneath the waves when a ship goes down. It is still there until the girl finds it, yellow and bright in her hand, timelessness and connection in a single stone.

This picture book shines with its strong message about the passage of time, the deep feeling of loss and the resilience to recover. It is a book filled with beauty, one that really comes alive with the turning of time deep into the past. That twist at its center is brave, surprising and is what really makes the book ring so true. As always with Becker, the art is exceptional. He captures emotions so clearly on the page and imbues his images with wonder.

An exceptional read by a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books Featuring Friends

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781626723146)

Two children head into the woods and discover an old house that is no longer a home. Once painted blue with an overgrown path, the house has a door that is stuck partly open. So the children enter through a broken window. Inside they find clues about the people who used to live there. There are art supplies, photographs, things in the kitchen for cooking, and beds that are still made. Could the owner have been a sea captain? Or perhaps a woman who painted in the garden? A girl or a boy? A king or a queen? And why did they leave this house waiting for them, never to return?

Such a gorgeous picture book. The writing is exceptional, the poetry invites readers to head forward slowly as if exploring an old house themselves. The writing looks at things from different angles, puts words together carefully and asks readers to think a bit before moving on. The pacing is delicious and just right, echoing the activities described on the page. Smith’s illustrations are layered and loose, the color on the page almost lifted by the breeze like pollen. It settles and lifts again.

Seriously one of the best picture books of the year. This is treat by two master artists must be shared with children!

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781592702503)

This beautiful, heartfelt picture book shows the incredible joy of having a true childhood friend. In this book, Raphael loves his best friend Jerome. He’s a friend who isn’t afraid to hold hands, picks Raphael as his partner at school, shares his snacks, and defends Raphael if anyone picks on him. When Raphael’s parents react rather rudely when he expresses his admiration and adoration of Jerome, Raphael heads to his room. There he looks for a great gift for Jerome, until he is distracted thinking about adventures that he and Jerome can have together. Because they will!

A French import, this picture book is childhood captured on the page. There is a merriment to the boys’ time together and an innocence inherent in the way they treat one another. And yet Raphael has beautifully concrete reasons that he loves Jerome and it’s all about how well he is treated and how Jerome makes him feel inside. The parents’ reaction may echo some of the reactions of adult readers who may wonder if there is more connection between the boys than just friends. That is neatly put in its place as Raphael heads off to be with his friend regardless of what that friendship may eventually mean for them.

Tallec’s illustrations are as masterful as ever. The pairing of the two boys is depicted with solid connections between the two of them. They have a lovely playfulness about them that capture the friendship of the boys and mimics the merriment that the boys feel when together. A delicate and touching story of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.)

Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9780763696047)

Written by two of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, this picture book is the true story of one of them and their service dog, Rescue. It is the story of a dog learning to serve and a girl learning to survive after losing a leg. Both of them train long and hard separately until they are paired together. The two of them spend their days together and Rescue helps Jessica heal after she loses her remaining leg. After that, the training starts all over again, but this time they do it together. This picture book captures a story of resilience and survival after a tragedy and the difference a service dog makes in that recovery and life afterwards.

The writing here is told with a light tone where possible. It helps tremendously that readers can see Rescue training to be Jessica’s dog even as her story is deep in shadows and pain. The mirroring of their hard work is also very successful, showing the dedication they both had to have even before they meet one another. The illustrations are very effective, using white and black backgrounds to show hope and challenging times. Throughout though, there is hope, in the form on one black dog who stands strong against dark and light. A winning picture book that is inspiring and courageous. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

3 Very Friendly New Picture Books

Can I Be Your Dog By Troy Cummings

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings (9780399554520)

Arfy is a dog looking for a home, so he writes to each house and business on Butternut Street. One by one though, they each say no. The Honeywells have a cat that’s allergic to dogs. The butcher thinks Arfy might steal too many meatballs. The fire station already has a dog. The junkyard just sends a nasty note back. And no one is living in the abandoned house. But as she delivered each of Arfy’s notes, the letter carrier made her own decision. The book ends with tips on how children can help animals who need a home. The use of letters adds a real appeal to this book as Arfy so politely asks for space and then is turned down with a variety of responses, some friendly, some rude and others businesslike. The book will work well for children learning to write letters who need a great model like Arfy to follow. The appealing artwork adds a playful feel and readers will recognize that Arfy has a friend in the letter carrier from the start. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House and Edelweiss.)

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld and Philip Hopman (9780802854896)

When Bobbi and William have an argument, William shouts that Bobbi should just get on his bike and leave. So that’s exactly what Bobbi does. Bobbi’s head is filled with anger at first and he doesn’t notice what is around him. But as he rides through town and out into the country, he begins to notice things around him. At each stoplight, Bobbi makes a choice of where to head. Sometimes traffic is loud and busy and other times Bobbi is alone in nature. As he rides, his thoughts move from the fight to his surroundings and he notices more and more. His ride brings him full circle back home, where William is waiting for him with dinner already made, cold but not ruined.

This picture book was originally published in the Netherlands and one can see their cycling culture strongly in the images. In most of the images, the roads are crowded with bikes which share the road with the cars and trucks. The story subtly moves through anger and shows a way of coping that allows a natural  move from frustration and anger to returning to oneself. The illustrations show a world populated with animals rather than people. Bobbi himself is a panda and William is a bulldog. There are birds, alligators, mice and more riding bikes, driving trucks and walking the towns. Refreshing and friendly, this picture book takes a look at anger and cooling down. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. Jack is a monkey who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own making. Accompanied by two other characters, Rex the dog and The Lady, Jack steals the lady’s purse in the first chapter. He returns the purse, but soon Jack and Rex are sporting the lipstick that Jack took! When he returns the red lipstick to The Lady, Jack still has one more trick up his sleeve. Young readers will enjoy the naughtiness of Jack and how he manages to make friends and feel sorry and yet still be entirely himself in the end. The writing is simple and friendly for the earliest readers who will also appreciate the chapter book format. Pizzoli’s art is simple and bright. At the end of the book he offers a tutorial of how to draw each of the characters, inviting children to create their own pictures and stories. A great pick for early readers and early reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.)

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec (9780763689506, Amazon)

Raymond was just a regular family dog, adored by his family. Then he thought one day about joining the family at the table as they ate. Raymond was soon walking on two legs and becoming more and more human. He got a job at DOGUE magazine, being a reporter and soon became an anchor on a dog news show on TV. Raymond didn’t have time for his family anymore and they only got to see him on his show when they tuned in. Finally, his family persuaded him to take some time off. Can Raymond find a way back to being more of a dog and less of a workaholic?

This witty book shows how even a family dog can be drawn into the work life too deeply. Using a family dog as the main character is a smart choice, playing against the typical dog roles. Throughout the book, there is a criticism of our modern work culture that is presented at a level that children will understand. Adults and children alike will cheer when Raymond rediscovers his love for life and ear scratches.

The illustrations have a zing to them as well. From the cover with Raymond carrying a to-go coffee. There is a lovely parallel world of dogs and humans in the images, showing a rich world that Raymond gets caught up in. For their modern touches, the illustrations still have a vintage appeal to them in their flat colors and lines.

A modern fable of the balance of life and work and the joy of chasing balls and spending quiet time together. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan (9781481471015, Amazon)

A boy finds a dog and takes him home. The two of them love playing together, but then the boy gets hurt. The dog is taken to an animal shelter and someone else adopts him. The boy is told that he simply isn’t old enough yet to care for a dog. Happily, the boy still gets to visit the dog and tries to grow up fast enough to take him back. As time passes, the boy grows up and the dog ages. When the dog is finally too much for his adoptive family, the boy is given the chance to take him. This book is an allegory for the love of pets and the unbreakable bonds they forge.

Strouse writes in prose that is simple and straight forward. Yet the story is much more of a fable, one that doesn’t follow logic but emotion instead. The story is about the bond between human and animal, one that defies time and distance to keep connections fresh and strong. Strouse embraces this even as he tells it in his simple prose, hinting at the true depths of emotion that lie beneath.

Phelan’s illustrations make this book sing. From the dogs in the shelter that are striped with bars to the way the black dog is such a strong graphic on the page, her images are iconic and beautiful. They match the simple prose with their own profound simplicity, allowing the white space on the page to speak too.

Strong illustrations make this allegory all the better to share with children and adults who love their pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards (9780399557019, Amazon)

A little girl gets a new puppy and the two of them work to become friends. At first the puppy is scared, but she quickly becomes more friendly. The two play outside together, nap on the chair after making a mess, and sometimes get stinky. The puppy gets lost and then found again. They get dirty and wash up. They make noise and give tons of kisses and hugs.

Edwards uses frank and simple text to tell the story of the two new friends in this book. The little girl narrates the book and tells it from her point of view. The illustrations though show the entire story which is that she is getting just as dirty as the puppy, making just as much noise and eating just as sloppily. This clever twist adds to the pleasure of reading the book and will be enjoyed by young readers.

A warm welcome to a new pet, this picture book is a celebration of newfound friends. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9781481457835, Amazon)

This is the second book about Gaston and his friends. The focus in this picture book is on Antoinette, the little poodle growing up in a family of bulldogs. Each of her brothers has a special talent: one is fast, another is strong, and the third is fast. Antoinette’s mother tells her that she also has a special talent, but no one knows what it could be. Then one day in the park, Gaston’s sister goes missing.  Can Antoinette be the one who finds her? It depends on whether she can trust her nose and her heart.

DiPucchio has a wonderful voice for picture books. She creates a natural rhythm with her writing, using repetition skillfully and not overplaying it. She understands the importance of little pauses, creating special moments in the prose that really pull a reader’s or listener’s attention to important parts. DiPucchio also manages to create real tension in a picture book that is appropriate for a preschool audience.

Robinson’s illustrations are bright, bold and large. They work well for sharing with a group. Against the bright backgrounds, the white and brown dogs pop visually. The acrylic paint offers deep colors that have some texture to them, adding to the visual appeal.

Another winning picture book from a master author, make sure to check in with Gaston’s story too! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

A Perfect Day by Lane Smith (9781626725362, Amazon, GoodReads)

On a sunny day, all of the creatures are having a perfect day. Cat can feel the sun on her back as she walks in the daffodils. Dog is sitting in the cool water in his wading pool. Bert, a little boy, fills the birdfeeder and Chickadee enjoys the seeds. Down below, Squirrel is trying to reach the birdfeeder and Bert gives him corn to enjoy. Everyone is having a perfect day. Until Bear arrives.

This book is incredibly simple and exceedingly perfect itself. Smith uses only a few short sentences to tell the story. Repetition is used to keep the book focused and also to make it nicely accessible to even the smallest children. There is a lovely quiet to the book, a joy in the simple and everyday that then becomes something surprising and entirely unusual in the end.

I love that the cover has the bear on it, foreshadowing the twist for little children. The illustrations are done in mixed media that is deeply textured and warm. One can almost pet the cat on the page, feel the cool water in the pool, and run fingers over the cob of corn. It adds to the simple delights of the book immensely.

Perfection to share with toddlers and preschoolers, expect this one to become a favorite. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon

bob-not-bob-by-liz-garton-scanlon

Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Released February 14, 2017.

An awful cold can cause chaos, especially if you have a dog named Bob. Little Louie is big enough that he doesn’t need his mother all the time, but when he gets sick he needs her quite a bit more. As his cold grows, his congestion makes him talk differently. So when he calls for his Mom, it comes out as “Bob.” Unfortunately though, when he calls “Bob” his dog comes running. As his cold gets worse, he only wants his mom near him, confusing his sister with confusing sentences and continuing to call his dog accidentally. Luckily though, his mom knows just what he needs.

This book is seriously fun to read aloud. The cover instructs you to read it “as though you have the worst cold ever.” And it’s a delight. The phrases that seem confusing on the page pop into sense when read aloud. The book also delights by having a child who wants his mom around him when he’s not feeling well and who also manages to confuse everyone about what he actually wants and needs. The result of the confusion though is lovely motherly warmth and attention, so actually everyone gets exactly what they need.

Cordell’s illustrations add to the zingy energy of the book. He takes the confusing language that Louie uses and creates large words with them that show those reading aloud exactly what to say in that wonderful congested voice. The family shown are people of color, giving a nice touch of diversity to the book. Add in the huge dog that bounds on the page and you have pure joy on the page.

Perfect for anyone home sick in bed, this picture book will please any kid who has a terrible cold or a great sense of humor. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Disney Hyperion.