Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by AG Ford (9780374307523)

A family of father, mother and baby play across the pages of this picture book. As the sun begins to set, they head home from a day outside. Baby heads across the floor, crawling and almost standing. As dinner is being made, he throws things out of his playpen. Then he gets to bang pots and pans for awhile before dinner. He gets fussy and hungry just in time to make a tremendous mess eating. Then it’s bath time before getting ready for bed. The family dances together until it’s time for stories and sleep. 

This book is just perfect for little ones, allowing brown babies to see themselves on the page and babies of other colors to celebrate them. The family is warm and lovely, just right for a toddler bedtime read. The cozy factor is huge here, rather like a hug made into a book. The sprinkling of Spanish phrases throughout the story adds so much. Ford’s illustrations glow with warmth on the page, filling them with toddler activities in a busy family. 

A beautiful glimpse of an evening in the life of a family. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (9781328781505)

Hanna and her father travel by wagon in 1880 to a small town in the Midwest where they plan to sell dress goods. Hanna though has another plan, one that her father doesn’t support, to design, sew and sell dresses for the women in town rather than just selling the materials. Hanna also wants to graduate from school, but that is not without a lot of controversy in the town. Hanna is half Chinese, her Chinese mother died in California, and her father is white. While her father is entirely accepted by the town, Hanna faces prejudice on a daily basis. In fact, most of the other students drop out of school when it is clear that Hanna will be allowed to attend. Meanwhile, their family shop is being built and stocked. Hanna and her teacher work on a plan to get her to graduate by the end of the year, though it seems less like a solution for Hanna and more of a way around the controversy she creates. As the opening of the shop nears, Hanna will face one of the most daunting and frightening moments of her life and must figure out how to keep it from ruining their future.

In her afterword, Park explains her connection as a child to the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her book clearly pays homage to the best of that series, set in a similar community with characters who echo some of the most iconic from the series. But Park takes the opportunity to right a lot of what is wrong with that series. She carefully includes Native Americans in the book, paying attention to all they have lost by this time in American history and to their language and way of life. This is beautifully done.

Park also creates a space for Americans of color on the prairie, showing that the settlement of America was done by more than the white people we usually see depicted. She works with the prejudice, stereotypes and aggression that people of color faced then and continue to face today. This is a book that un-erases people from history.

Marvelous, timeless and important. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)

Omar and his family have moved, which means that Omar has to start at a new school. He lives with his mother, father, older sister and younger brother. One of their new neighbors doesn’t seem happy to have Muslim neighbors, glaring at them through her fence and not being friendly when approached. Omar is also facing a bully at school. Daniel has even told him that because Omar is a Muslim he could be kicked out of the country! Luckily, Omar also has a new best friend and a family who can support him as he learns the ins and outs of being Muslim in America.

Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable. Omar himself seems the world through a silly and engaging lens, where teachers may be aliens and he is a magnet for trouble. That trouble includes spitting on his little brother in bed, getting lost during a field trip, and asking Allah to bring him a Ferrari. The book has lots of illustrations, making it just right for elementary-aged readers who need some breaks in their text. They will find that the humor and format make for an engaging read.

A winner of a children’s book that is about prejudice, friendship and community. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan

Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan

Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (9781534461833)

Told in the first person, this picture book celebrates adults in children’s lives who take on the role of mother even if they aren’t related to the child. The little girl in this book lives with Mama Rose. Their relationship is never clarified as foster parent or relative, making it a picture book that will speak to children living in a variety of circumstances. Mama Rose does everything a mother does. She combs the little girl’s hair, get her to school, teaches her skills like making a bed or dribbling a basketball. Mama Rose encourages the little girl to dream and to know that she has potential. She also has rules like finishing your vegetables before you get dessert and doing chores like cleaning your room. Mama Rose is home and there is plenty of love to go around between them both.

With a repeating refrain and writing that is simple and accessible, Duncan shows that it is not actually being a biological mother that matters but instead being a mother figure for a child whatever the relationship. In her author note, Duncan speaks to the long tradition of fictive kin that dates back to the times of slavery and the broken families that resulted from the brutality. In the story itself, the focus is on love and support for a child and what that looks like every day.

Barlow’s watercolor illustrations show a clear connection between Mama Rose and the little girl. Filled with color, they capture the many moments that make up a relationship of parent and child.

An important book that embraces different kinds of families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

 

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (9781338255812)

A deaf author writes the story of a deaf protagonist living on Martha’s Vineyard in the 19th century in a community with many deaf residents where the majority of people use sign language when they speak. Mary has never known any other place than her beloved village on Martha’s Vineyard where her deafness is not seen as a disability. Her great-grandfather came from England and settled on the island over a hundred years ago. So when a scientist intent on figuring out the cause of the deafness of the island community enters their world, he is first welcomed. Mary and her best friend decide to follow him around, since Mary has noticed him saying derogatory things about the deaf. When Mary gets too close, the scientist reveals his frightening plan of taking a “live specimen” from the island. Mary is taken to Boston, where she discovers the harshness of being a prisoner and being unable to communicate with anyone about her plight. Mary’s fight to survive and be understood speaks to what we see as disabilities even in our modern world.

This ownvoices novel is a rich glimpse into the world of the deaf community and its long history in the United States. Based on the history of Martha’s Vineyard, the author’s note mentions how she recreated the sign language used on the island which is no longer in use. Her care with acknowledging the land issues between the white settlers and the native tribes of the island is evident on the page. She offers detailed accounts of the community itself, giving a deep understanding to the reader of the warmth, love and acceptance of the community. That is then shown in stark contrast with the reactions of the rest of the world. 

The writing is frank and clear. The author speaks about how she comes at English from a different angle, both as a deaf person and being bilingual. She also shares in sign language conversations some direct translations that allow hearing readers to better understand how conversations flow in that language. The characters are all seen through Mary’s eyes, including her parents. Mary shines at the center of the novel, her experiences and perceptions make up the story, which at times is incredibly difficult to read as Mary is abused and veers towards despair of ever seeing her family again. 

This historical novel is both important and impressive. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan

Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan

Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan (9781452180199)

This lovely bedtime book has text inspired by the Quran. The book has a repeating structure with each double-page illustration accompanied by a line that starts with “Inshallah you…” The book focuses on a day in a child’s life, surrounded by a loving family. The family wakes up, goes for a walk, and visits a neighbor in need. They read books together, play with friends, and garden. There are lots of activities like swimming, riding a bike and even more playing with others before the book ends with bedtime and stories. 

These universal childhood experiences are made deeper and more meaningful with the words that accompany them, each noted with characteristics that they represent like thoughtfulness, kindness, safety, and faith. The illustrations are vibrant and impactful, showing a Muslim family go about their day. Done in reds, yellows and blues, the illustrations are full of color and celebrate parental love. 

A warm, rich and beautiful look at a Muslim family. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

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 Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (9781338580839)

The author of The House with Chicken Legs returns with another clever novel based on Russian folklore. Yanka is a girl who hasn’t stopped growing, even though she is much taller than her Mamochka and her best friend, Sasha. She loves the stories Anatoly brings from the Snow Forest, tales of greed, transformation, magical trees, and a fiery dragon. After falling from an ice fort, Yanka is carried back home and awakens to discover that she has grown bear legs overnight. While her Mamochka wants to take her to a doctor, Yanka is certain that the answer lies in the stories she loves and the Snow Forest itself. So she sets off into the woods to find out how she fits into the tales and how they fit her. She is accompanied by Mousetrap, a house weasel, who she can now understand when he speaks. Along the way, she gathers new friends including an elk, a wolf, and even a house with chicken legs! Now she just has to find her grandmother, a Bear Tsarina, who may have the answers Yanka needs. 

This novel is so satisfying to read, rather like sipping on sbiten around the fire. The settings are beautifully captured without lingering on too much description: from the lovely village that Yanka and her adopted mother live in, to the glory of the Snow Forest. Fans of the first book will cheer when the Yaga and her house appear in the story, nicely pairing the two novels together. The lessons of working together to solve problems, accepting help when it’s offered, and depending on others in a community (or herd) are graciously offered to readers and shown effectively in the story itself.

Yanka herself is a heroine worth championing. Her struggles with fitting in at the village, even before her bear legs appeared, make sense to her, but from the beginning readers will see the truth of how she is adored and appreciated in her community. Numerous tales are woven throughout the book, told aloud by different characters. They become more than just tales as elements are shown to be true as Yanka’s adventures continue. She is always brave, willing to sacrifice herself, but also independent to a fault with lots to learn about friendship and community. 

Deep, fascinating and warming, this children’s novel is honey and an herbal salve for its readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey (9781324005193)

This picture book celebrates the hard work on a farm, whether you are a human or a truck. The old truck worked hard on the farm hauling things. But it grew tired and unable to be fixed. So it rested near the barn, dreaming of being a boat, a blimp or even a space rover. It got older and older sitting there, weeds growing up around it. Until a new farmer, who had grown up on the farm, decided to try again to fix it. It took a lot of determination and trying, just like farming, but the old truck eventually came to life again, woke up and started working. 

Told in the simplest of phrases, this picture book is really about the illustrations. Done with over 250 handcrafted stamps, the illustrations have a wonderful retro look with modern colors. They show an African-American family on a small family farm, working hard. The little girl goes from being born all the way through to owning the farm herself and having a child of her own. The time process is slow and steady, marked by the growing of the weeds as well. 

Delightfully modern and retro, this picture book is very special. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.