Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler

Cover image for Strollercoaster.

Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler, illustrated the Raul the Third and Elaine Bay (9780316493222)

Every day there is a time when the inside feels too small for Sam. She kicks toys around the room, stomping and angry. There is only one solution for this, which is to take a ride on the strollercoaster! To start the ride, Sam gets buckled in and the straps are pulled tight. A reminder of keeping hands and feet inside at all times is given, and they are off! Sam’s father runs fast and the neighborhood flies past them. There are cool shops, sweet-smelling bakeries, and the green of a park. Soon Sam feels like she’s flying and she’s smiling. The ride ends with a dark tunnel with a light at the end. By the time they get back home, Sam is asleep and her father is ready for a nap too.

Ringler writes a book that starts with anger and frustration and then shows a way to find delight in life once more with big smiles that turn into a cozy nap. It’s a book with a strong arc that is enhanced by all of the urban elements of the story and the warm relationship of father and daughter. The text in the book plays with the rollercoaster theme, using buckles, straps and the iconic warning and then clicking and clacking uphill. It’s funny, universal and delightful.

The illustrations are playful right from the beginning with all sorts of small details that are great fun to discover. Keep an eye on Sam’s stormcloud t-shirt that is big and bold at first, and then covered up skillfully as she calms down. The urban neighborhood is brought fully to life in the images with rainbow sherbet colors carrying throughout, creating a tropical summer feel.

A dynamic thrillride of a book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

It Was Supposed to Be Sunny by Samantha Cotterill

It Was Supposed to Be Sunny by Samantha Cotterill (9780525553472)

Leila’s birthday was planned to be an outdoor celebration until the storm hit and it had to be moved inside. Leila doesn’t deal well with changes, but with the support of her mother and her service dog, she manages to rethink the day more than once! They will still have the Wish Jar rather than singing Happy Birthday, a sparkly craft to replace balloons, and extra icing on the cake. The unicorn races moved to an indoor course and were still lots of fun. Until…a crash happened and the cake ended up on the floor. Now the schedule is ruined and Leila takes a break with her dog. After the break, it is Leila who comes up with the solution to continue the birthday party even without cake to share.

Another in the Little Senses series, this book is particularly designed to reflect the experience of children on the autism spectrum as well as those with sensory processing issues. Cotterill’s text is simple and pace of the story is fast. This helps with understanding Leila’s reactions as she is hit multiple times with big changes to her plans. She also demonstrates how to use techniques and support to face change, to remind herself that it turned out alright in previous experiences, and to find a new and positive way forward.

The art is friendly and bright, showing characters of various races and featuring a Black child and mother at its center. Leila’s emotions can be read easily in the images, showing her excitement, worry, sadness and happiness in turns.

Another winner in a series that speaks to so many children. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.

Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin

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Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899369)

Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.

Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.

The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.

A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter

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The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter, illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring (9781536211238)

At his first day at his new preschool, Dmitri was very excited. He sat next to Liam, rested his head on Liam’s shoulder and told him, “I love you.” Liam didn’t know how to respond, so he didn’t say anything. Outside, Dmitri told a group of girls that he loved them. They blushed and ran off. Dmitri hugged a tree, told it that he loved it, and then told the same to the ants on the ground. At lunchtime, he told the lunch lady that he loved her too, though she was certain he meant he loved her cooking. All afternoon, Dmitri told different objects and people that he loved them. But the next morning, Dmitri didn’t want to go back since no one had said that they loved him too. His mother pointed out that people show love in lots of different ways, and Dmitri’s second day showed exactly that!

This picture book glows with lots of love showered on everyone by Dmitri. While it makes them feel awkward and likely will make the reader feel that way too, Dmitri means it each and every time. The satisfaction of the second day at school is profound as Dmitri is welcomed by all of the people who had perhaps turned away from him the day before. They may not be saying they love him but in all sorts of actions, they show it to him.

The illustrations are done in a vibrant mixed media. They depict a very diverse preschool filled with children of all skin tones and teachers of different faiths. The preschool is full of bright colors, activities and marvelous messes that make it feel very welcoming and familiar.

For all of us who wear our hearts right out in the air. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick Press.

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert

Cover image for The Shadow Elephant

The Shadow Elephant by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Valerio Vidali (9781592703128)

The elephant was staying in the shadows, not speaking or engaging with anyone. The other animals decide to try to cheer him up. First, the monkey told the funniest joke he knew, but the elephant didn’t even smile. The ostrich sisters did a dance, but elephant didn’t even move. The crocodile brought him a treat of acacia leaves, but the elephant just sighed. Then a small white mouse came up out of breath and asked to rest near the elephant. The elephant asked if the mouse was there to tell a story, but she just wanted to rest. So the two of them sat quietly together. The mouse eventually shared part of her story, making the elephant cry. The mouse cried too. Finally, when they were done crying, the elephant felt lighter and was able to stand up. The two headed off to find the mouse’s home together.

Translated from the French, this picture book about emotions and sadness shows how separate these blue emotions can make us feel. The elephant remains in the shadows, silent and sad, not even able to weep. Then the smallest of creatures with the simplest of gestures shows empathy. It’s that shared experience, the silence together, the moments taken, not to distract but to be with one another. The power of that, shown in such simple ways, resonates throughout the book.

The illustrations are full of contrasts. The pages with the elephant glow with blues and lurk with dark shadows. The elephant is almost a mountain at night, large and unmoving. The other animals are bright and colorful, the sky a beaming blue and the ground a neon yellow-green. The mouse arrives as the sun is lowering in the sky, creating a synergy between her side of the page and the elephant’s that shows their growing connection as well.

A deep look at sadness and the power of empathy to overcome it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow

Cover image of Looking for Smile

Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (9781534466197)

Bear and Smile spent all their time together doing all sorts of things. Smile was always there when Bear woke up in the morning. They both liked the same breakfast and to explore the forest together. They also both would do anything for some honey. But then one morning, Bear woke up and Smile wasn’t there. Bear called for Smile but they never came. Breakfast didn’t taste the same. Rabbit suggests that Bear look for Smile in their favorite places. But even eating honey doesn’t bring Smile back. Bird comes and sits close to Bear not saying a word. Then Bird started to sing and Bear hummed along. Soon Bear started to feel something deep inside. There was Smile!

Tarlow explores emotions in this picture book, allowing all emotional states to be treated with compassion and empathy. Bear is usually very happy but some days can be blue ones, where it’s impossible to smile. Treating Smile as its own character makes the book really work well. Readers will understand immediately and enjoy seeing what will bring Smile back. They will likely expect the honey to work, and when it doesn’t that’s a great moment where only quiet empathy will work to find Smile again.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and acrylics. They create an entire world for Bear and Smile to explore and live in together. From Bear’s cozy home to the waterfalls and forests of their habitat. The landscapes are filled with bright colors of water, flowers and leaves. When Bear gets sad though, he changes from his deep warm brown to a cool blue and stays that way until Smile returns.

An empathetic look at emotions and sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Beach Lane Books.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera

Why Do We Cry by Fran Pintadera

Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera, illustrated by Ana Sender (9781525304774)

After a quiet morning, Mario asked his mother why we cry. His mother explained that people cry for many different reasons. Sometimes crying is due to sadness that can’t be contained. Other times we cry because of the anger we feel like a storm cloud raining and feeling lighter afterwards. Sometimes we are confused and searching for answers. Crying helps us grow and keeps us from turning to stone. Tears can be the best medicine when we are feeling pain inside and out. And then of course, there are times when we cry for happiness.

Pintadera beautifully explores the emotions that we all feel and how they can be expressed through our tears. This is such a heartfelt book, framed by a mother talking to her son about crying. It’s so critical that boys feel that they can express emotion and cry rather than feeling emotions as rage. This book not only supports that but explains the complexity of emotions and how they change and develop.

Sender’s illustrations are gorgeously emotional. She captures the feelings of isolation, loneliness, anger and confusion with real skill, moving from one color palette to another to convey each type of emotion.

A marvelous book about emotions and emotional intelligence. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.

Review: Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder

Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder

Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781452149875)

Jim wakes up one morning not feeling quite himself, after all he doesn’t usually have a tail to swish. His mother calls that she’s made pancakes for breakfast, but Jim isn’t in the mood for pancakes. He’s feeling beastly, so he heads downstairs for something delicious to eat, his mother! Jim is still hungry after that and heads out into the small town, munching on person after person. It’s not until he meets a hungry bear in the woods and Jim himself may be eaten that he manages to stop. On the way back, he spits out each of the people he ate. But he may not quite be done devouring things after all.

Everyone has some beasty part of their nature. This picture book captures that with a great sense of humor. It has connections to classic stories of gorging, but doesn’t end in quite the expected way, which is delightful. The creators mention Maurice Sendak in their dedication, and one immediately can connect this story with his. There is a great moment towards the end of the book where Jim returns to being human, but not entirely. It’s a reminder that even if we appear human, that beast still lingers and is hungry.

The art by Groenink has a distinct Sendak feel in its lines and color palette. The woods takes on a Wild Things vibe in its drama. The devouring is done in a very fairy tale style with no gore, just gulping, which takes the scariness away and also ties this nicely to classic stories like Little Red Riding Hood.

A book that is sure to appeal to your little beast. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.