Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich (9781534400900)
Hank is a very prickly cactus sitting in a window and overlooking the emptiness of the desert. Occasionally others intrude on his blissful quiet, and he doesn’t respond in a very friendly way. When Rosie the tumbleweed rolls past, Hank ignores her entirely. Hank yells at a tortoise so loudly that the tortoise hides in his shell. Other animals and people pass too, each greeted rudely by Hank. Someone suggests that he needs a hug, but no one wants to hug a prickly cactus. The next morning though, Hank is less angry and more lonely. But what is a grumpy cactus to do? Hank may have a new and friendly idea.
Goodrich has created quite the character in Hank. Hank moves beyond just being rather ferocious and cranky into something more closely approaching sadness and isolation. That shift is the key to this book, one that allows readers to truly start to feel for Hank and his predicament. The use of being “prickly” meaning both personality and having sharp needles is clever handled and not overplayed in the text. The book is engaging and funny with a brisk pace despite being centered on a plant.
The art is done in a desert color palette with sand, rich blue skies at night, and changing clouds and weather. Hank himself is full of personality, grumpy as can be at times while being rather morose at others. Goodrich uses plenty of humor in the illustrations too, particularly with Hank himself.
A great pick for grumpy days when you might be feeling a bit prickly yourself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach (9781338289411)
When it’s time for the caterpillars to make their cocoons and metamorphosize, one caterpillar isn’t clear what is actually going on. To make matters worse, he’s also quite impatient about the entire process. Once he starts his metamorphosis, he just can’t wait the entire time and pops out before he has changed at all. He rebuilds his cocoon, but continues to complain the entire time and ask whether it’s time to emerge yet. Happily, the second time, he does become a butterfly but his impatience isn’t cured quite yet.
Burach writes this picture book entirely in dialogue, showing both the impatience of the main character and the exasperation of those around him. Thanks to a high level of humor in the book, the main character is more funny than troublesome. Children will see their own impatience in him. I also deeply appreciated that he didn’t change at all by the end of the book, even after changing into a butterfly. The art is big and bold, filled with bright colors and lots of energy. It is ideal to share with a group.
A great mix of humor and STEM. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
When You’re Scared by Andree Poulin, illustrated by Veronique Joffre (9781771473651)
A little boy is scared to jump down into the water from a branch, even with his mother waiting below to catch him. A little bear cub feels the same way as he considers jumping from a branch into a dumpster. The mother and son each lunch together after swimming. The cub has lunch too, in the dumpster. When the boy goes to throw away their bag of garbage, he meets the mother bear standing outside the dumpster. The boy is scared of the bear, the cub is scared that he can’t get out. Mother and son decide to help the bears and bring a big log so that the cub can climb out, they are all very scared. Their plan works and the day ends with darkness and no one scared at all.
This Canadian picture book addresses the different aspects of fear. It uses the perspectives of both a human child and a bear cub to show that fear is universal. It also demonstrates that fear can be overcome and that doing so can make a positive difference in the world. The book uses words sparingly to tie the two perspectives together, allowing the story to really be told in the illustrations.
The illustrations are done in collage. They are bright and bold, showing the forest setting of the camping site and the dumpster. In certain images, the emotion of fear is shown as obliterating the sunny day entirely. It’s a very effective use of illustrations to convey emotion.
A book about fear that also encourages moving beyond fear to action. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song (9781452167916)
In his classroom, Henry is looking to make a new friend. It can’t be the class pet, because Gilly the fish can’t play on the swings. It can’t be his teacher. As Henry considers different children in his class, he realizes that some of them are too colorful even when you try to do something nice for them. Others don’t listen very well, like a friend would. Other kids break the rules or play with worms. Henry found himself watching Gilly in her fishbowl. Katie is watching Gilly too. Henry thinks about Katie. The two play blocks together quietly and Katie listens to Henry and he listens to her. They play together but each in their own way. It’s just right.
Bailey has written a captivating story about a boy with particular needs and wants in a friend. Henry has strong opinions about friends, ones that make him angry when they are dismissed. When Henry gets too frustrated he ends up in a bit of trouble at school. It is great to see a book embrace the deep emotions of children and not label any of them as wrong. Henry doesn’t have to change at all to find a friend, he just needs some patience.
Song’s illustrations are simple and warm. They depict a diverse classroom of children, all possible friends for Henry to consider. Done in ink and watercolor, they show everyone’s emotions throughout the day very clearly through body language and facial expressions.
A lovely look at the emotions of finding a friend. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Chronicle Books.
My Heart by Corinna Luyken (9780735227934)
The author of The Book of Mistakes returns with another amazing picture book. This time she focuses on empathy and self-awareness as she speaks about the power of your heart. The heart here can be open or closed, small and hidden or ready to grow. It can separate you from others or invite them inside. It can break but also be mended as well. The power of the heart is for its owner to decide.
Written in rhyme that swirls, this picture book invites readers to explore their own hearts. It looks through a poetic lens at the dark side of life, such as isolation, loneliness, fear and anger. These elements are balanced with a strong feeling of hope throughout the book, a tone of mending, care and resilience. This is a book that can start conversations about negative emotions as well as positive ones.
The art carries the simple verse forward. Done in a beautifully limited color palette, this picture book has gray, black and yellow. The yellow is used as sunlight, glimmers of heart on dark pages. It goes from tiny touches of yellow to drowning the page in its light. The illustrations are delicate and show the emotions in the text through images very successfully.
This is one heartfelt picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
When Sadness Is at Your Door by Eva Eland (9780525707189)
This quiet book looks at how children can handle deep emotions like sadness in a proactive way. It explains how sadness, depicted as a large blue round creature, can arrive without notice and be so close you almost smother. It reveals how sadness can almost become you, but try not to be afraid. Instead listen to the sadness, ask it where it came from, be quiet and sit together for a while. Do things together, even take a walk with one another. Give it room and make it welcome, and then tomorrow is a new day.
Eland takes a rather Buddhist approach to handling negative emotions as she asks the reader to sit with their emotion, welcome it and basically make it feel at home. The book shows that emotions can’t be hidden or pushed away. This approach leads away from anger and misery and into an acceptance that makes this book very gentle. In the art there are clear echoes of Harold and the Purple Crayon in its simplicity. The color scheme is muted and reflects the quiet nature of the text and the content.
A clear and gentle look at difficult emotions. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (9781911171539)
A girl talks about how her fear had once been small and helped protect her. However, when she came to a new country, her fear grew much bigger and kept on growing. Her fear kept her in the house when she wanted to go out. Her fear doesn’t want her to go to school. Fear fills the girl’s dreams, evenings and meals. It makes her feel separate and lonely. When a boy reaches out to her at school, they draw and paint together. When they head outdoors, a dog barks at the two of them and suddenly both of them reveal their fears to one another. Her fear steadily gets smaller and more manageable as she begins to try new things and meet even more people.
Sanna, the author of The Journey, returns with her second book that once again speaks to the experience of an immigrant child. The use of Fear as a full character in the book works very well, embodying this large emotion and demonstrating how it can control one’s life. Children who are not immigrants will be able to see their own fears represented here as well, making this a strong choice for discussing emotions.
The art plays a crucial role in the book, particularly in the way that the fears are presented. Sanna creates a fear that is friendly at times and ferocious at others. Fear is soft and changes size, sometimes riding on the girl’s back and weighing her down. When Fear shrinks, it becomes almost toylike and very manageable, conveying that some fear is a good thing to have.
An original look at fear as an emotion. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul (9781454928584)
When Allie’s crayon breaks, she is suddenly furious and turns into a bright red anger monster. She stomps, smashes things and throws a tantrum. When her brother gives her a pillow to punch, the worst of the anger leaves. She climbs out of the red monster suit, now an orange monster. Her brother tells her to squeeze her favorite toy really tight. That helped more and soon she was a green monster. Her brother tries more techniques and Allie becomes blue and rather sad. Still, she is herself after that and looking for a hug.
This picture book brilliantly explores anger and healthy practices to release it and let it go. The use of different colored monsters gives children a visual meter of Allie’s anger and how she is steadily de-escalating it with her brother’s help. Told from her brother’s point of view, he is calm and steady throughout the book, knowing just what to do. The illustrations are a huge part of this book with the angry monsters showing a steady decline in anger until sadness is revealed.
Well designed, this picture book will offer a way to talk about emotions and anger. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (9781481476270)
Flamingo is very sad today. He wonders if he will ever feel better. A little girl and a potato, yes a potato, try to explain about emotions and feelings. At times the three of them get a bit down all together, but they quickly turn to a plan to cheer up Flamingo. The girl and potato think of things that they love, but they don’t work for Flamingo. He doesn’t eat ice cream or dirt. In the end, they decide that sometimes it’s OK to just be sad. Flamingo worries that his friends won’t like him if he’s still sad tomorrow, but they assure him that they still will. Then potato makes a joke and the book ends with lots of laughter.
Told entirely in dialogue, this is a frank look at sadness and emotion. It explains a variety of approaches to emotions, ending with the most important one which is to not push the emotions away and that they will naturally change on their own. Black’s use of a potato as a main character seems odd until his personality starts flying and it suddenly steals the show. Ohi’s illustrations are big and bold, filled with flamingo pink (of course) and other bright colors that will make this a great read aloud, particularly when shared with different voices for the three characters.
A quite happy and optimistic book about sadness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.